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Working on your net with networking

Written by MO.com Subject Matter Resource, Angela Ray

This word, networking is rather interesting to me. I hear it all the time in my business and entrepreneur circles.

“Yeah, I went to this networking function, and made a lot of new contacts.”

“Really,” I reply. “Who did you meet?

“Well, I don’t remember their names, but I did get business cards.”

“Okay. Did you take notes on the back of their business cards?” I inquire.

“No. But that’s a good idea. I got about 15 business cards, though, so something is bound to come out of one of them.”

Something is bound to come out of one of them? Really? What would that be? An addition to your business card anthology?

And sadly, that is a typical conversation I have with some though not all of my fellow entrepreneurs. A business card is a very useful tool, for those people who still use them. It’s a place where I actually write down the date and location of where I met the individual who gave it to me. I sometimes even write down physical traits of the person, what they were wearing, if they wore glasses, etc., so that when I follow up, I have a visual in my head.

But, having a business card from a new contact is not even necessary to build a networking relationship with him. When I meet someone who I definitely want to connect with again in the future, but she doesn’t have a business card, I will ask for her information and input it directly into my phone, with notes on the contact.

First, what exactly is networking? Well, networking is a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups who have a common interest. Not my words, but that’s the definition from Dictionary.com.

Now, that that is out of the way, let’s talk about how to do it and do it well.

Excellence with Encounters

To be effective in networking, the first order of business is to become excellent with encounters. How well you meet and interact with people will determine how much networking you are truly doing.

And, just how do you become excellent with encounters? The first step is simple. SMILE.

Yes, smile. It all starts with a smile. Sometimes networking functions can be a little intimidating. And not everyone who attends is an outgoing extrovert who has the overflowing gift of gab.

There are shy entrepreneurs. Many entrepreneurs work from home, or at best in a small office with a small staff, at least starting out, so mingling with a lot of people is not necessarily an everyday occurrence.

A smile opens the door to the person you make eye contact with for you. A smile says, “Hey, let’s talk. I’m nice. Be my friend.”

The next important step is to scan the room. Take a survey of the groups of people talking. Notice those people who are over in a corner eating alone. Decide whether or not you feel most comfortable approaching a group or individual.

If you approach an individual, small talk like, “Are you saving a seat for anyone?” or “Would you mind if I joined you,” is a way to begin.

If you approach a group, listen well. Find the opening. Are they talking about anything that relates to you professionally or personally? Join in where you can. Yes, it may feel a bit awkward at first, but once you interject your first question or statement, this usually opens the door to you being a part of the circle.

Next, discern the common interests. Everyone you meet is not an ideal addition to your network. Ask questions. Listen. Talk about yourself too. And then decide if this is someone you need to invest additional time in getting to know, of if you should politely exit the conversation to find someone who most closely aligns with your vision.

Networking can be a tremendously valuable tool. Use it wisely

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