The purpose of networking is to open doors while increasing your opportunities. Are you a business owner looking for the next client? More importantly are you looking for a job? Networking is one of the most important skills that you can learn. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to find clients or trying to find a job. Networking is the cornerstone of any organization that you join or event that you attend.
The art of networking does not come naturally to many people. For most people, it’s a learned skill. Introverts may find it hard to get into the spirit of networking. Extroverts may need to control some of their enthusiasm in order to network effectively. Whichever your style, by following a few simple steps, networking can be an effective tool in gaining clients or finding your next job.
Step One – Don’t look desperate. You don’t want it to appear that you are merely using a friend or acquaintance for what they can do for you. Let’s say that it’s been over 5 years since you talked to Bob. Now that you’re unemployed, you suddenly remember that Bob is the CEO of a company. How do you think Bob would feel receiving a call out of the blue asking for a job? If you find someone of interest at a meeting or event, stay in contact even if it’s just to say hello.
Step Two – Talk to people at parties, organization events or even waiting in line at a store. Most people feel comfortable standing and talking to their friend at an event. Make it a goal to meet at least ten new people at every event that you attend. If you’re going to the store, make it a goal to talk to at least one or two people. If you’re at an organizational event, ask for their business card.
Step Three – Learn to be comfortable. Talk to people with sincerity and interest. You don’t want the question “What do you do?” to sound forced.
Step Four – Remember it’s not all about you. It’s important that you actually listen to the person speaking to you. If you ask a question, wait until they are done answering before you respond. One habit that's hard to break, is trying to figure out your next question instead of listening to the response from your previous question.
Step Five – If you’re nervous about talking to people – practice. Talk to your mirror if you have to. A great place to practice is while attending a family event. If you can’t get comfortable meeting potential clients or employers, take a class. For example, the Women’s Business Center located in Springfield, VA offers free classes on how to set up a business. Check out your local Small Business Association.
Step Six – Is your marketing ready? Make sure you have enough business cards or other hard copy information accessible and ready to hand out. There is nothing worse then being in a room full of potential clients without a business card in hand.
Step Seven – There are many opportunities to meet people in your profession. Associations usually hold free meetings to attract new members. There are also sites on line such as meetup.com which will provide hundreds of networking opportunities in your area.
Step Eight – It may not seem like an important contact, but you know the cliché “never judge a book by its cover.” Follow up with everyone that you meet, even if it’s just to say “it was nice meeting you.” Follow up on all leads you find no matter how insignificant.
Effective networking takes practice. Next time you're in a social setting, try one or more of the steps above. As your comfort level grows, continue to introduce each step into your routine. Soon you will be well on your way to getting new clients or finding your next job.