In my last blog, "Effective Event Networking 101," I suggested several best practices to help ensure networking success while attending an industry networking event or meeting. Success from any networking event comes from proper planning before you attend and following some simple steps after the event, such as the ideas below. These concepts apply to those attending networking events and industry meetings for education and career development, a job search or business development.
- Prioritize your connections.
After the event, review your business cards. You’re that much more ahead if you added reference notes from the conversation to those cards. Review each contact’s title, organization and any reference notes you added. Group your contacts by those you should reach right away, and those you would like to connect with in person over time or at a later date. The most important factor in your evaluation of each person should be the chemistry and connection you had. Although conversations with many contacts would have been short, you likely have a good idea of whom are most likely to help you (and vice versa) and centers of influence. By prioritizing the people you met, you make the most of your time spent at the meeting or event.
Regardless of whom made your short list, follow up with everyone. In today’s virtual world, e-mail tends to be the default vehicle on which we rely. However, think of other ways that add a personal touch. Perhaps you could send an article related to the topic you discussed or a handwritten thank-you card.
- Structure your next conversation and define your objectives.
Once you know whom you need to follow up with immediately, you must determine how best to position your message to that individual. Whenever possible, it is very helpful to suggest your next meeting be in person. The ultimate goal of networking is building relationships, and being in front of someone helps foster that. In your follow-up e-mail, suggest to meet for lunch or coffee to continue your conversation. Before your encounter, it is vital to plan; define what you want to accomplish from the meeting; review your contact's LinkedIn profile; determine how you can help this person; and identify what you want to ask of him/her during the meeting. In my "Effective Event Networking 101" blog, I mentioned that your first encounter should focus on your contact. Take this next face-to-face meeting as an opportunity to not only learn more about your guest, but also share more about you, your business, or your career and job-search goals.
- Communicate your value proposition.
Ensure that you clearly articulate you value proposition. If you are job hunting, help your contact understand the type of role and organization you are pursuing. Explain the background and skills you bring to the table. If you are selling a product or service, you will need to help the person identify how he/she can help you, who your target audience is, and what business challenges your solution or service solves.
- Network to network and “pay it forward.”
Don’t ever lose sight that networking works best when you build relationships, and go through (not to) the people you meet. Essentially, you hope to gain access to their network. There naturally will be times when the connections you meet can help directly. However, your ideal contact may be two or three degrees of connections away. The best approach is one where you ask for help, identify what you seek, and ask your contact if he/she knows anyone with whom you should network. You will be amazed how quickly your network expands when you leverage networks of highly influential contacts.
The second critical concept in networking is to identify ways to “pay it forward.” Can you connect your new contact with someone in your network? Can you offer them any help? Next time you meet, directly ask, “What can I do for you?” Even if you think your encounter was one-sided in that you only offered your assistance, that gesture will pay you generous dividends. As Zig Ziglar once said, “If you help enough people get what they want, you will get what you want.”
- Manage your follow up and connections.
Nearly as vital as the suggestions above is using a proper contact management system (CMS). Like many others, you may have stacks of business cards piled on your desk from meetings and networking events. Get the most from these cards and connections and achieve your goals by turning your connections into dynamic relationships. Invest in some form of contact management software. GoldMine, Microsoft Outlook and SalesForce.com are examples of packages specifically designed for this task and can be affordable. By using the appropriate CMS for your needs, you can better strategically manage your interactions (and job search), organize your conversations, and track your referrers and introductions.