Networking can be hard, nervewracking, expensive and time-consuming. It can also afford you otherwise unavailable job opportunities and ultimately provide you with the tools you need to find success and stand out in your field. Especially as we head into the New Year, when everyone is looking to find ways to improve their business, it’s time to look at some networking secrets that can help you get ahead in 2018.
If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it right and there are specific strategies that business professionals use to be successful, and make connections with the most valuable contacts.
Instead of showing up, getting a glass of wine and moseying around at a business mixer step up your game like you know you can. Keep these networking secrets in mind as you prepare for your next event and you’ll reap the benefits in 2018, as you work with the new members of your network who can help you meet your goals in the New Year.
Your Unique Value is Critical
Relationships are reciprocal. When meeting someone, you want to provide as much value as you hope to get from them. When you provide them something unique it makes you memorable and valuable. This is an important piece of making a mutually beneficial connection. Instead of immediately asking for what you need, provide a solution or opportunity for the other person first.
“One of the biggest networking mistakes people make is jumping the gun when asking for a favor,” according to LearnVest contributor Molly Triffin. “One cardinal key of successful networking: give before you can get.”
What can you offer to those who can also be of service to you? Can you give advice from interesting personal experiences or introduce your new acquaintance to someone who will propel their career forward? Your unique value makes you stand out, especially when meeting multiple people at one time. Dig down, determine what value you have to offer, and don’t be afraid to use it.
80% Quality and 20% Quantity
Instead of trying to collect as many business cards as possible, aim to connect a lot of people, and, as the Founder and CVO of BNI, Ivan Misner suggests, make sure some of those connections are exceptionally strong, “If your network is a mile wide and an inch deep, it will never be successful. Instead, your network needs to be both wide and, in places, deep. That is, you need to have a wide set of contacts, but some of those need to be connections that go deep.”
That means both quality and quantity is important, with quality being the highest priority; if your network can’t offer the help you need, it’s of little to no value to you. Strike a balance between the two as you build out your network.
People Like People Who Listen
Do you actually listen when people are talking? Or are you “listening” while waiting to talk about yourself or preoccupied thinking of what to say next? The latter is an easy trap to fall into, especially at a networking event, where you always want to have something valuable to say.
A good networking secret is to improve your listening skills by putting your phone down, making eye contact and listening, intently. Ask follow-up questions, repeating what they just said back to you, to show that you’re actually interested in what he or she has to say.
What’s more, it’s worth noting that all of these actions are included in Forbes’ 13 Habits of Exceptionally Likeable People. If you can become a successful listener, your career will be better off as a whole.
Homework is Critical
When you learn about an upcoming networking event, look for an agenda or guest list, and do your research. Find out about the people you may meet and arm yourself with questions and talking points. There are a few simple ways to get to know these potential connections, including:
- Scan their LinkedIn profile; look for unique details that only someone who did their homework would know.
- Search for articles they’ve written or any articles about them.
- Look for commonalities in your history—Did you attend the same college? Have you worked with the same people? Are you from the same home town? You’re looking for that emotional connection.
Don’t worry about memorizing the guest list, or packing your brain with factoids about various attendees. Focus on a few people who could be most valuable to you, and conversely, those to whom you can provide the most value as well.
A Targeted Approach is Most Effective
Set a goal, like: meet new investors, find a business mentor, meet a hyper connector. This goal will affect your strategy in the networking moment. Once you know you’re objective, use a targeted approach to connect with people who can provide value specific to that need, starting with research, all the way through to the actual event.
“Networking will be most profitable for you when you master this targeted approach. Focus on meeting with and building a diverse group of individuals and surround yourself with the people that can help you reach specific business goals,” says Ted Rollins, Founder and Chairman of Valeo Groupe.
Rollins continues, “Commit to your purpose and as these relationships grow, consider how they fit into that burgeoning ‘why.’ Someone may be more valuable in expanding your business while another person would serve you best in a mentor role.”
Your goal may be different for each networking event, and you may even have more than one. As long as you’re clear on what that is, you’ll be more likely to reap the benefits. Not sure how to set an appropriate networking intention? Develop your own personal networking plan to help you stay focused on what you want and who can best help you get it.
“Sparks” Fly at the Bar
The bar is a great central location to connect with people. “The best place to stand is right where people leave when exiting the bar. This way they have a drink in their hand and they are ready to mingle. This is always where I plant myself when I’m at networking events and it makes for super easy conversations,” says Vanessa Van Edwards, author and behavioral investigator.
This is an especially helpful networking secret for introverts who have a hard time stepping into an on-going conversation. People usually wait alone at the bar, making it easier to start a conversation. If it seems like everyone else is already talking to someone, strike up a conversation with someone standing by the bar or just about to walk away.
The Follow Up—It’s Everything
If you told someone you would reach out to them after the event, do it. If you promised to call someone, make an introduction, send an email or send an article, do it. First impressions are important, but your actions after the event speak much louder. No one wants to work with or provide help to someone who is unreliable and lacks follow-through. Those are critical skills in business and your career, and now is the time to master them.
If you’re not good with words, check out these 12 follow-up email templates from Hubspot. Modify the one you love to your particular situation and then save it so you can edit and re-send after every networking event.
Now It’s Time to Become a Power Networker
If you’re confident in what you know, able to approach the right people, and follow up a day or two after, you’ll make valuable networking connections in no time. Networking is not a time to “go through the motions,” so commit yourself to the event before, during and after and you may find that your dream career is much closer than you thought.
Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years and is currently a full-time writer, content marketing consultant and business owner. She’s been featured in Forbes and Business Insider and has written for Manta, LeadPages, Salesforce and more. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07 and connect LinkedIn.
Wondering how networking can help you best in your career right now? Take the InPower Career Quiz to find out!.