Even though I speak to groups for financial professionals ranging from 20 to 5,000, I’m a pretty shy person when it comes to networking events. Over the years I’ve learned to get pretty good at these types of business-building events. In this column I’d like to tell you what I’ve learned, so you can turn networking events from boring affairs to business building opportunities.
1. Know who you want to meet.
Before you decide to go to any type of networking event, you need to know what types of people go there, to be sure that they are people you want to meet. Unless you’re just out to have a good time, choosing the wrong kind of event will be a waste of your valuable time. There are three types of people you want to meet at networking events: 1) potential clients; 2) potential Centers of Influence; and 3) people who represent interesting products and services you might be able to refer to your clients. When deciding to go, make sure at least one of these categories is represented among the event’s attendees.
2. Networking is a process.
My colleague, Lynne Waymon (author of the book Great Connections) relates a story of a salesperson who once said, “I tried networking once; it doesn’t work.” Although you can often turn a single networking event into a successful experience, you usually get the most out a group when you attend several meetings, you get active with the members, and you begin to create a reputation for yourself. Networking is not a one-time event, it’s a process.
3. Go to give, not to take.
One of the biggest mistakes I see at events is that many people are there to just “get” and not “give.” Yet the folks who usually get the most out of networking are the ones who go to events looking for ways to help others. It’s amazing how that works. One of the best things you can say to someone at an event (if they are in sales or own a small business), “If I ran into someone who was a good prospect for your business, how would I know it? Tell me who a good prospect for you is.” After you learn about them, you can talk to them about what you do, and how you help people.
4. Have a goal for each event.
I’ve found that when I have a specific goal for an event, my results are always more pronounced. I usually set a goal of how many new people I want to meet. This keeps me from staying “comfortable” with people I already know. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to maintain and grow relationships with people whom you already know, but if you don’t stretch a little each time, your results will probably diminish over time. Your goal may be to meet a specific person. Having this as a goal might keep you from wimping out.