“Grandpa, walk like you have someplace to go.”
This admonishment from my 5 year old granddaughter (courtesy of my son I am sure) is my reminder that we have to do things with a purpose. And networking is not some random act that results in us meeting a valuable contact; it is a “process.” In Part I of this blog, I provided some background on networking and why I thought it was so important for entrepreneurs. In this second part, I will hopefully provide some helpful techniques.
First, find the right place to go. While it is great to bump into someone at a social event who may allow you to “advance your cause,” I prefer to increase my odds by frequenting events that increase my chances of meeting the right people. We do business with early stage tech companies, so MeetUps, hackathons, FinTech and similar events are popular places for us to be. For more established owners, we frequent business groups, bank and other service providers’ events and small networking groups. With some research and purpose, you can increase your odds by being in the right place.
Next, as the Boy Scouts say, be prepared. In advance of going to a session, see if you can secure an attendance list and set an objective of meeting one or two key people on that list. If there is nobody on the list you want to meet but you are new to the process, go anyway. If the group is right, you will come to appreciate the practice. You should also be prepared for your “pitch.” If someone asks (and they will) why you are there or better yet, what can they do for you, have your short elevator pitch ready.
Third, learn how to break the ice. A simple “Hello, my name is…” works remarkably well. Weather, sports and family are also good topics but they should be of real interest to you. Today, most people are familiar with networking so they are prepared to respond. Ironically, while you might be there with a specific goal in mind, you should begin by asking why they are there and what you can do to help them. If you are genuine (this is the golden rule) the path to your goal may be longer but will be rewarding. I am fortunate to have relationships with a good number of contacts, so for most events, I leave with the task of connecting someone I just met with a contact. But that is fine; I do not mind that someone might remember me as the “person who helped them to connect.”
Finally, follow up. Make sure you under promise and over deliver. If you said you will try to get your new contact a meeting, call and arrange it and close the loop, even if you are not successful. My rule of thumb has always been to not attend a networking event if I don’t have some time set aside for follow up.
So in summary, networking is not just for sales people or professionals; it is a way of life today. Do it with purpose, stay genuine and use hints like the above and you will be surprised as to what can happen.