In our interconnected world, who you know can be just as important as what you know. A healthy network is crucial for every businessperson and the key to fostering a great network is to maintain your current relationships and consistently build new ones. Whether you are meeting with an old business acquaintance or reaching out to someone new, the following tips will take your networking skills to the next level.
1. Be honest
I can’t stress this point enough. If you want to sell someone on your product or service, tell her so up front. Respect the other person’s time, as well as your own, by being honest about your reason for getting together. Although it may not be what you want to hear, allow the other person to decline your invitation if she isn’t interested. Being vague about the purpose for your networking request or flat-out lying in order to get a meeting with someone are underhanded, unprofessional tactics, and will do your business more harm than good.
2. Be prepared
Have a purpose for the meeting. Don’t take someone out of circulation for several hours during the workday without a worthwhile reason. Do your homework and research the person you will be meeting with. Check out his LinkedIn profile, visit his company’s website, and view his portfolio of work. If a mutual connection referred you, follow up with that person for more information. Plan what you want to talk about and brainstorm ways the other person could benefit from connecting with you.
Agree beforehand how long you would like the meeting to last and which topics you would like to discuss. When you do meet, restate your objectives at the beginning so everyone is clear. If you both want to discuss business opportunities, allot each person a set amount of time to talk and then keep to the schedule.
3. Be confident
In addition to being confident enough to state your intentions up front, you also need to be confident when expressing your opinions. Sometimes it feels easier to take the path of least resistance and not speak the truth because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, but committing to a second meeting because you aren’t bold enough to say no to is not helping anyone.
If after listening to the other person talk you feel her product or service isn’t right for you or your business, thank her for her time, and then politely and firmly tell her you aren’t interested. If you change your mind you can always get in touch again.
4. Be genuine
No one likes to be sold to. When you’re networking it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of landing a potential new client, but the person you are networking with is just that – a person. Acting pushy and using aggressive sales tactics is a sure-fire way to bring the networking session to a quick close and leave a bad impression that will be difficult, if not impossible, to erase.
Instead of leaping immediately into your sales pitch, sit back and take a moment to get to know the person you have worked so hard to connect with. Ask about his work, his family, his last vacation. What does he do when he isn’t working? Where did he go to school? You don’t want to spend the entire time talking about his bowling average, but you do want to make a genuine, human connection. You will get a lot more mileage from a meaningful business relationship than a slapdash sales presentation.
5. Be proactive
Did your networking session go well? Great! Offer some suggestions about how you would like to proceed and ask your new business acquaintance what she thinks. Would she like you to follow up with more information tomorrow? Two weeks from now? Six months? Whatever it may be, commit to a plan and stick to it. Keeping your promises does wonders for your reputation.
If there is no interest in your product or service, a follow-up e-mail is still acceptable. Within a few days of your meeting, shoot your new connection a message to thank him for his time and let him know you are available if he has additional questions. Leave the lines of communication open.
Intentional, meaningful connections are the lifeblood of networking; however, networking is not limited to one-on-one sessions at the local coffeehouse. In addition to being the most caffeinated person in town, you can also hone your networking skills at social events, seminars, workshops, or conferences. Wherever people gather for a professional purpose, the chance for quality networking exists. Remembering these tips and having a strategy in mind will help you get the most from the time you invest networking.
Shelley Smith is the owner of Premier Rapport, a business consulting and executive coaching firm in Hampton Roads, Virginia. She is also the president of Peninsula Women’s Network and active board member, program & sponsor chair for PenSHRM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (757) 897-8644. This piece was originally published as an Expert Column in Inside Business.