Does the idea of networking at a mixer sound forced and unnatural? When I first graduated I quickly grew bored with going to events and trying to force a conversation with complete strangers, but honestly, I was taking the wrong approach. Networking doesn’t have to be a transactional, tit-for-tat experience where you connect with people you wouldn’t otherwise associate with for the sake of furthering your career. Networking provides a great opportunity to further one’s career because it allows you to break away from the norm of a traditional work day and meet people in a nonconventional method. Millennials are beginning to dominate the networking scene and plan non-traditional ways to promote. In comparison to traditional networking events, modern networking allows you to stimulate genuine connections with colleagues much more.
Here are some strategies to develop and maintain your network:
- Opportunities are everywhere
You don’t have to be at a networking event just to make a few new contacts. Attending more formal networking events isn’t a bad thing (in fact, it’s probably better) but it’s by no means the only place where you can network. Change your mindset to think of it more as “forming connections” rather than traditional networking; it’s easy to see that countless opportunities to build your network are available.
- Qualify your prospects
The first step in acquiring a network contact is the qualification phase. When I to go to a networking event I always start by observing the room. I look for who in the room seems like a power player. At most networking events I get bombarded with people who want to “sell” me their company or what they’re offering. I check for the people who speak confidently and have the presence to back it up. Ask yourself if this person is someone who could help you out, and who you could help out as well. If the relationship won’t be mutual, you won’t establish a good business relationship.
- Have your elevator pitch ready
Once you’ve identified and qualified a prospective contact, your next task is to introduce yourself. Don’t wait for someone to approach you; I used to be reluctant to make the first move, especially when it comes to introducing myself to a total stranger. But I realized that when meeting potential contacts in person, the first two minutes of conversation will set the tone for the entire relationship. Making a good first impression is critical, especially if you’re cultivating someone who already has a strong network or who is in a position of power. You have to prove that you have the ability to dominate the conversation but also the humility to listen to the insight offered from potential contacts.
- Take a friend
I love dragging my friends to networking events whether they like it not! Bringing my friends allows me to feel more comfortable. It also helps to have a friend to help ease the conversation if things start to get dry.
- Ditch the sales pitch.
Remember, networking is all about relationship building. Keep your exchange fun, light and informal; you don’t need to do the hard sell within minutes of meeting a person. The idea is to get the conversation started. If a potential customer does ask you about your product or service, be ready with an easy description of your company. People are more apt to do business with people whose company they enjoy. Before the event, create a mental list of recent accomplishments, such as a new client you’ve landed or project you’ve completed. That way, you can easily pull an item off that list and into the conversation.
- Follow -Up
Finally, once you’ve made initial contact don’t neglect your follow-up. It doesn’t matter if it’s an email, thru Social Media, or a phone call. Reach out using whichever method best suits the conversation. Keep in mind that networking is where the conversation begins, not ends. If you’ve had a great exchange, ask your conversation partner the best way to stay in touch. Some people like email or phone; others prefer social networks like LinkedIn. Get in touch within 48 hours of the event to show you’re interested and available, and reference something you discussed, so your contact remembers you. Don’t be shy about connecting with people you’ve met in person on social networks. There is no shortage of online social sites: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat etc., although I prefer LinkedIn. Ultimately you should use your best judgment about where to connect; if you met at a networking-oriented event LinkedIn and E-mail are good platforms to connect on. A more casual, drinks-oriented event might make the more friend-oriented platforms Facebook and Instagram feel more appropriate. When in doubt, you can ask either in person or over email if they’d like to connect on social media.
At the end of the day, people are looking to network to make money so favors might include sending him warm leads or might be something as simple as forwarding an article that you know will interest him. Putting your contact’s needs first will make him or her a happy, long-term member of your network.