by Anne Day | Featured Contributor
That’s what I call the networking game where you collect as many business cards as possible at a meeting, shake hands with numerous people, giving out your cards whether the recipients want it or not.
And that’s the game I’ve witnessed frequently. In fact when I first started my consulting business, I would go to these networking meetings, and as soon as I explained I worked in social services, the eyes would glaze over and I could see the person looking over her shoulder trying to find her next “victim.”
That’s not networking, not by my standards anyway. I appreciate that when you are an introvert, shy or just plain lack confidence, the very thought of entering a room full of strangers is scary beyond words. Yet, in today’s workplace and business world, networking is vital if you want to get ahead.
You don’t have to go into the lion’s den alone. Persuade a friend or colleague to come with you.
Here’s how I like to play the game:
Rule One – People do business with people they know and like.
So you have to take the time to get to know them. I would rather spend my time with one or two people and get into a meaningful discussion and get to know them and their business. It’s about building relationships.
Rule Two – Take an interest – ask questions of the person you have just met
Rather than launching into what you do – hold back – ask about the other person. Have some open-ended questions in your back pocket that will generate an interesting conversation.
Rule Three – It’s not all about you
Think about who you know that you can connect the person with – a potential customer, an alliance. Even if you can’t use their service or are not interested in their product – you may know of someone who is. When you help someone, they are more likely to help you.
Rule Four – Six degrees of separation
You never know who knows who. It truly is six degrees of separation. And you just never know when you are going to meet someone who has the right connections for you. It isn’t always at networking meetings – it could be at social events, at the hairdressers, whatever. So have your business cards with you – when you change purse – transfer them.
Rule Five – Tell stories
When someone does ask you what you do – have some stories to tell that illustrate your work. Avoid jargon – or no one will understand you. And stay away from the slick infomercial – to me, it just comes across as insincere and rather rehearsed.
Rule Six – Follow up
So you’ve got all these cards. Now what. Follow up as soon as possible with an email – it can just be to say how much you enjoyed meeting them. If you volunteered to send information or make an introduction – do it.
Rule Seven – Stay connected
I often see articles that I know would be of interest to someone that I’ve met, or come across a lead that will be helpful so I pass it on. It is an easy way to stay connected and it makes you memorable as someone who is genuinely interested in helping others.
Rule Eight – Be yourself
It is all too easy to put on a façade, to wear a mask and behave as you think the group requires – but then you are not real, you’re not yourself. Be confident, trust your gut instincts and show the world the wonderful person that you are.
Rule Nine – Say thank you
If someone goes out of their way to make a connection for you, make sure you say thank you – by email or a hand-written note.
Recognize that you likely won’t get business right away, it is all about building relationships and it takes time to gain trust. And just think of the money and time you’ll save because you won’t be giving out all those business cards, or collecting them either.
But she found working for yourself can be isolating and so eleven years ago she started Company of Women as a way to connect and support women entrepreneurs. Today the organization has six chapters across the GTA and beyond, and over 300 members. In 2009 she received the Entrepreneur of the Year Award in Oakville and the TIAW World of Difference award for her work in supporting women internationally. Over the years she has helped thousands of women grow professionally and personally through her programs, services and personal encouragement.
She is the author of three books, the most recent being Day by Day – Tales of business,life and everything in between. She is a regular business columnist with Huffington Post, and blogs for numerous other publications.