“It’s all about who you know” — you’ve heard this expression before but does it really matter who you know in the professional world? The short answer is yes. Although the qualifications and experience you have in your field are essential when it comes to your career path, they aren’t always the catalysts that open doors and spark new opportunities. What can help you is networking.
The industry contacts you have allow you to cast a wider net when looking for a new job, business partner, or even a mentor. When you have a good relationship with fellow professionals, they can extend their networks to you, substantially expanding your reach.
But networking can be tricky. It requires tact, good social etiquette, and excellent communication skills. Here are some networking tips, tricks, and best practices to help you get the most out of your professional circles.
Networking Tips to Help You Build Great Relationships
Networking can seem simple enough on the surface. After all, you just need to show up at a networking event and shake as many hands as possible, right? Not exactly. Everything from your business cards to your attire, your body language, and your goals will impact how successful your networking has been once the event is over.
Here are some of the best tips and tricks you can use to ensure that your business networking efforts are fruitful.
1. Dress Appropriately
Whether a networking event takes place online or in person, you still need to dress to impress. That doesn’t always mean business formal though. Some networking events, like mastermind groups or casual meetups, don’t call for any specific attire at all.
Base what you choose to wear on the type of event that you plan to attend. When in doubt, opt for a business casual outfit.
2. Bring Great Business Cards
It goes without saying that for any in-person networking event, you should bring along a healthy stack of business cards to hand out.
Have you ever been handed a particularly attractive or unusual business card? Chances are that it caught your attention right away. Whether it was the quality of the paper or a unique design, something about it made you take notice. If you want your business cards to stand out, don’t go for the boring basics. Try something with a creative design, an unconventional cut, or a nontraditional format. Don’t feel like you need to hire some expensive graphic designer either. You can create a great business card yourself with Canva.
At events where business cards are being exchanged like there’s no tomorrow, you need to do everything you can to make an impression.
3. Be Aware of Body Language
We say a lot with our words, but we say even more with our expressions, posture, and eye contact. Be aware of your own body language at professional events, but also the body language of those you interact with. Smile, stand up straight, make eye contact, and pay attention to your tone to make sure that your body language doesn’t conflict with what you’re trying to say.
Different people will respond to energy levels in different ways, so approach each new person from an individual perspective. For example, extroverts may be comfortable in a boisterous group setting, while introverts may prefer a more subdued, one-on-one approach.
4. Have a Goal
Before you attend a networking event, have a goal in mind. That way, you can communicate what you’re looking for to others and have a better chance at meeting the right people. Some common networking goals include:
- Looking for a business partner
- Marketing a new startup
- Building brand awareness
- Finding a mentor or mentee
- Making sales
The goal you set will influence how you communicate with people and the connections you choose to pursue, so consider how it will affect your networking strategy at a conference or seminar.
5. Have a Mentor
Experienced, well-connected professionals often have large business networks, which is why mentors can be a great resource for meeting new people. Mentors can make introductions, get you into exclusive business networking events, and expand your professional circle exponentially.
Plus, many mentors have already established a solid reputation within their industry and profession, so having a vote of confidence from them can boost your chances of making viable and successful connections that help you to meet your networking goals.
6. Become a Mentor
If you’re not looking for a mentor yourself, consider becoming one. Growing your reputation as a mentor can open your professional network to new connections and events. Not only will it get your name out there, but it will also help you to build relationships with peers and emerging professionals. This is an excellent way to stay on top of new trends and to meet people with fresh perspectives.
It also means that you can start attending new networking events and seminars designed specifically for mentors, opening up your professional circle even more.
7. Meet New People
The whole purpose of networking is to meet new people, but many professionals find it hard to break away from their existing social groups. In group settings, try not to talk only to people you know, like colleagues and old classmates. Make a point of introducing yourself to new contacts. Sticking to who you know will keep your professional circle stagnant while meeting new people will help it to grow.
8. Prepare an Elevator Pitch
Before a networking event, you should prepare an elevator or sales pitch to summarize who you are, what you do, and the goal you’re hoping to achieve. Whether you’re looking to make sales or simply to meet other business owners, you should have a clear idea of how you want to introduce yourself and what you want to communicate to others.
This will help you to keep conversations on track and to deliver a clear, direct message from the get-go.
9. Focus on a Soft Sell
Hard sells can sometimes do more harm than good in networking settings. Don’t be pushy or overly assertive when meeting people for the first time. Your goal shouldn’t necessarily be to close a deal after you first meet someone, but rather to make a new connection that you can leverage and build a relationship with in the future. Essentially, it’s about playing the long game.
If you start off with an aggressive approach, you risk making a poor first impression, potentially ruining your chances of building a good relationship with a new contact.
10. Take Notes
Sometimes networking events lead to you meeting so many people you can barely remember any of them. That’s where taking notes can come in handy. But don’t take notes while people are talking. Instead, after each conversation is finished, take a few moments to write down key information like:
- The person’s name
- Their profession
- Where they work
- Whether they freelance, are employed, or own their own business
- What their goals are
- Anything you found interesting or noteworthy during the conversation
After the event, you can review your notes. This will help you remember each new contact and what you talked about when you follow up and if you meet them again later on.
11. Build Relationships
Don’t just focus on your goal and ignore the other benefits that networking has to offer. Building relationships with other business owners and professionals can lead to business partnerships, friendships, collaborations, and other meaningful connections. But only if you work toward making a legitimate connection with someone.
Networkers aren’t always clients or customers, but they may know people who are. If you put time and effort into building a relationship with them, you may become someone they’re happy to recommend to their own connections.
12. Provide Value
Everyone at a networking event is there for a reason. Just like you, they have goals in mind too. Pay attention to what they’re looking to achieve, and think about whether you can help them in any way.
For example, can you introduce them to a new connection with a similar goal? Or is there an opening at your company they could be a fit for?
Referrals are extremely helpful when it comes to building business relationships and landing new roles.
Whenever possible, use your connections and experience to provide value to others. The people you help will be more likely to do the same for you when an opportunity presents itself.
13. Reach Out Through Your Network
If you’re looking to meet a specific professional, receive an invitation to a coveted networking event, or get a referral for a meet-and-greet at a new company, explore your existing connections first. When you’re recommended to someone through a trusted mutual connection, you have a much better chance of getting your foot in the door compared to a cold call or email.
Reach out to anyone in your network who may have a connection or an in with the person, company, or event you’re interested in. It never hurts to ask whether someone happens to know someone — the worst they can say is no.
14. Follow Up
After a networking event, you need to follow up with your new acquaintances to solidify a connection. Whether you send a personal email, touch base with a phone call, or simply add them on LinkedIn, it’s important to reach out within a few days or you risk losing your new contact.
However you choose to check in, try to make it personal. Recall a detail your new connection mentioned when you met or ask what they thought about the event. Keep your initial message or conversation short, friendly, and professional. If they have questions about what you do or how you can work together, they’ll let you know.
Where to Find Networking Opportunities
Finding networking opportunities isn’t limited to traditional conferences and events. There are a number of different ways you can find and join professional groups online and in person.
1. Join Professional Organizations
Professional organizations like groups and clubs are the perfect way to meet other pros within your area of expertise. Most cities have a variety of specialized professional organizations, from advertising clubs and small-business groups to engineering networks and programmer meetups.
Another option is to look for online professional organizations if you can’t find any locally. Many host online and virtual meetups open to participants from across the globe.
2. Join a Mastermind Group
Mastermind groups are peer mentorship groups that focus on helping attendees to grow their careers and meet their professional goals, which makes them an ideal place to network. You’ll meet like-minded individuals who want to further their careers and pursue new opportunities. This can lead to collaborative projects, strategic partnerships, and an accelerated career path.
3. Attend Conferences and Professional Events
Conferences and other professional events are the most tried-and-true method of networking. After all, it’s almost impossible not to network when you’re at an event with a few hundred other industry experts who have similar skill sets, backgrounds, and interests. You’ll also have a chance to meet bigwigs in your industry, connecting you to some of the best and brightest your field has to offer.
4. Join Social Media Groups
Networking groups don’t always have to be in-person. Several social media platforms can be used to create and participate in networking groups. Some of the most popular ways to use social media to meet new professionals include:
- Joining professional networking groups on LinkedIn and Facebook
- Participating in professional chats and hashtags on Twitter
- Finding public Slack groups specific to your profession, industry, or location
Social networking can be a great option for introverts or for people who are unable to attend in-person events on a regular basis.
5. Participate in Charity Events and Fundraisers
Local charity events and fundraisers often encourage all different kinds of community members to come together. Often, small businesses and professionals get involved in charities as a way to build their reputation and use their products or services for good.
If you want to give back while creating a name for yourself and meeting other movers and shakers in your area, charity events and fundraisers are an excellent choice.
Volunteering your time isn’t only personally rewarding, it can be professionally rewarding as well. Not only does it provide you with an opportunity to make new contacts, but it also unites you with others who share a common cause. This enables you to grow a strong network of like-minded people who share similar passions and beliefs to you.
Networking plays an important role in the life of any ambitious and goal-oriented professional. From making new contacts and rubbing shoulders with industry leaders to finding investors and business partners, networking comes with a variety of career benefits.
By communicating clearly, planning ahead, and exploring different networking opportunities, you can be sure to get the most out of the professional events you attend and the business organizations you join.