When I first started my business, I went to a lot of networking events. Normally that's a smart move because networking is a vital part of running a successful business, but if you don't know what you're doing, then you might end up wasting a bunch of your valuable time.
I learned this the hard way. There are lot of things I should have been doing differently when I first started to network.
Today I want to pass along some of the tips, tricks, and "secrets" that I wish I knew when I first started networking. Hopefully these simple steps and mindset adjustments might be able to help you.
1. To thine own self be true.
Different things work for different people, and this is especially true when it comes to networking. One of the first and most important steps to become a better networker is to know yourself really well.
Know yourself so that you can adapt your networking tactics and style to fit your needs. Don't just do what everyone else tells you to do. Even take this blog post with a grain of salt. Some of the things I talk about here might not be right for you.
When I go to networking events, I wear clothes that I feel confident and comfortable in. I know that networking isn't my natural strong suit, so anything that I can do to make the process more comfortable is a huge win.
2. Quality over quantity.
When I first started networking, I got a bunch of business cards and tried to hand out as many as possible. I thought this was the way to succeed. I may have gotten my name out there initially, but it didn't actually stick and last beyond a first meeting.
I spent so much time trying to just get in, get out, and move on to the next person that I never made a memorable impression that led to a lasting connection.
Your goal shouldn't be to hand out as many business cards as possible. That won't get you far. Instead, try to have a few really great conversations that will naturally lead to solid relationships.
3. Let it be.
I tend to be a dreamer and a perfectionist. I like to think big and aim high. When it comes to networking, this can be a huge disadvantage. I use to go into networking events with a whole set of mental assumptions and expectations about how I wanted everything to go down. Normally, goal-setting can be a good thing, but when I'm networking it's a terrible idea.
My advice? Don't go into networking with too many expectations. If you do, they will only weigh you down. Just let things unfold and see what happens.
If you must have a goal, then hold on to it loosely.
4. Look for pals, not payments.
Many people approach networking as a way to land more clients. This is a natural goal, but it often is the wrong one. Most of the time, you're not going to meet anyone at a networking event that will directly become your client. What happens more often than not is you will meet someone new, establish a good connection with that person, and then they end up knowing someone that is need of what you do.
Referrals are the name of the game.
Focus on expanding your network and making new friends rather than trying to make more money. Clients will come naturally as a result of knowing people and being a good friend.
5. Get the digits! Then follow up.
The biggest mistake I made when I first started networking was I expected people to come to me. I thought I could just hand out business cards and new relationships would somehow magically grow. That's not how it works at all.
You have to follow up with people and take steps to developing relationships. They won't happen automatically.
After the networking event is over, pick out a few people that you think would be worth getting to know better and ask them if they'd like to grab coffee and swap stories. Don't like coffee? Try smoothies instead.