When you think of “business networking ” you may think of mingling in a room full of similarly dressed professionals with a pocketful of business cards and a drink in hand. This is exactly the kind of situation many people avoid. But networking shouldn’t be about collecting as many cards as possible in a stiff business setting. Instead, it should be about making truly meaningful and beneficial professional connections, something that can be done nearly anywhere.
NETWORKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
View every encounter as a potential networking opportunity. This doesn’t mean approach every introduction with a sales pitch, but it does mean you should consider each introduction a possibility.
Professionals in your field probably don’t only hang out at industry meetings and seminars. They shop, they travel, and they take their kids to little league. Always be prepared to meet your future business contacts by keeping an open mind, your business cards handy and a smile on your face. Business networking can be done in a variety of places, including:
- Coffee shops
- Train stations
- Your child’s school
- Soccer practice
- Grocery line
- House of worship
STRIKE UP A CONVERSATION
Building contacts shouldn’t be hard and it shouldn’t feel awkward . Start conversations naturally, as you would with any potential friendship. Using appropriate small talk is generally a good way to go. Here are some tips to help you start the conversation and keep it going:
- Talk about your mutual interests (i.e. your children if you meet at a sporting event), your commute if you are waiting on the train, or the food if you meet at a food line during a wedding.
- Ask open ended questions.
- Talk about what you’re a passionate about.
- Look for common professional and personal interests.
- Talk about your work and what you love about it.
- Discuss meeting for coffee or exchanging emails.
Of course, you are less likely to meet someone who works in your industry when you are simply striking up conversations with strangers than if you meet them at a networking event. But, the people you meet out in the world can add significant value to your personal and professional life. Meeting a web marketing professional, for instance, could help you build your online image , someone who works in the banking sector could put you in touch with a small business loan officer, and a college admissions counselor would be a great friend to have as you work to send your child on to higher education. Besides, hearing what others outside of your sector do, how they solve problems, how they conquer market share, and so on, allows you to bring fresh ideas to your own business.
BE OF SERVICE
Networking is all about a mutually rewarding relationship, so before you ever think about how your new connection might benefit you, think of how you could be a benefit. What can you offer this new contact that is unique and helpful? Do you know information they could use? Do you have other connections that may be useful to your new acquaintance? Offering to help before anyone offers to help you will send a clear message about your generosity, a trait most people value and reciprocate.
One important key to good networking habits is to follow up. Send whatever it is you promised to send, or set up a lunch date if that’s what you said you would do. This is one of the areas where lots of people fall flat and lose credibility and great opportunities. Business networking shouldn’t only take place at business events and definitely shouldn’t be limited to online contacts. By taking full advantage of all of the people you encounter, your potential for professional growth expands exponentially.