As a young person embarking on a sales and marketing career I was told to network frequently to try to meet as many people as possible. I was told networking was the key to a successful career. So, I did. I attended any and all networking events. Sometimes hiding in a corner nibbling on cold appetizers and sipping watered down drinks feeling completely overwhelmed and out of my league. Oh, I networked my butt off-with terrible results. Rarely did I talk to anyone that was a qualified prospect and I was inundated with requests from people I had met at networking events that had nothing to do with my area of knowledge, I was asked to give hours of free advice with no possibility of return business and I spent countless hours working for no gain.
It was then that I realized, more is not better, better is better. More as it relates to networking- is a four-letter word.
Here are four simple tips for networking more effectively and avoiding the pitfalls of networking burnout.
- Be Selective! Pick events that are a direct fit with your business needs, are within your target categories and that you know your prospects will be attending. Do your research and if necessary ask organizations for attendee lists for their upcoming events. Confirm that decision makers at your corresponding executive level will be in attendance.
- Plan ahead! Prepare your messaging in advance. Nothing is worse than meeting the elusive prospect in person and being tongue tied. By preparing a brief introductory speech and practicing with a peer or in front of the mirror, you will feel much more confident and can quickly and effectively explain why you wanted to make the connection.
- Bring Value! Networking is a two-way street and you need to bring value to any relationship- business or personal. Be sure to ask questions, offer assistance within your scope and be a resource in exchange.
- Follow up! Send a “thanks for connecting” note right away and then stay connected. Wherever possible, connect on social media and start interacting to build a more solid business relationship in the future.
While networking can be seen as a less than thrilling necessary evil, it can also bring you tremendous value provided you put some thought and strategy into the process and planning. Avoid the pitfalls of more is more and instead focus on better. Look for high quality events, be prepared for successful encounters, reciprocate and of course, stay in touch.
By Janet Jorgensen