Business networking is about connecting not just with potential customers or clients, but also with other people who may recommend business to you or mention your name positively to people they know. It also entails networking with individuals who provide information or training, and it can be a great way to effectively find your way to the top.
Virtually everyone is networking—whether via emails, phone calls, instant messages or physical meetings. How intentional you are about building your network determines if it will develop into something that positively influences lives and produces great results. This is where “social intelligence” comes in.
Connecting with people requires more than technical intelligence. To build a purposeful network, you must engage in intense emotional preparation and overcome a lot of psychological barriers. You will also need to proffer information, resources and support in exchange for the genuine connection that can get you where you need to be.
These four tips can help you authentically and consistently grow your network:
1. Set goals.
Every single time you set out for an event that has networking potential—a business meeting, a conference, etc.— you want to attend with deliberately fixed intentions. Knowing this, you must prepare and set yourself up for success. What does this mean? It means do your research! What makes the people you’re meeting with tick? How are your skills of benefit to them? What do they lack? How can you penetrate their circles?
For instance, if you’re heading to a tech conference today, you can be sure there will be conversations on the future of tech and Web 3.0. In order to stay memorable, you must be able to engage, so you’ll need to do a deep dive, understand the topic and understand the lingo. Also, prepare your “professional value proposition.” For example, how does your job as a marketing professional provide value to startups looking to provide thriving products/services for the reality of web 3.0?
Wherever you go, there is the potential that someone there could be potential venture capitalists or investors, mentors, employers or partners, so you need to have your elevator pitch raring to go. Simply put: Know your network goals and know exactly what to say when the right moment arises.
2. Ask questions, listen and observe.
When you meet someone for the first time, ask a ton of open-ended questions and, even more importantly, listen with your ears and your eyes. Open-ended questions leave room for the person you’re speaking with to express themselves in more ways than one. This is a great tack to take especially if you are an introvert or an ambivert. Once you’ve got this person talking, focus on actually hearing what they’re saying and maybe even what they’re not saying. Observe their body language as this can also give you insight into their personality.
3. Be relevant.
Ensure that you establish your potential relevance when you meet them. Here’s an example: A friend of mine wanted to get the attention of a popular business consultant and motivational speaker, but with so many people wanting to do the same, it was hard to reach the speaker. One day, my friend asked himself, “What can I do to be relevant to this guy?” He then observed that the speaker never had recordings of his speaking engagements and so he decided to take this task on himself and burn the recordings onto CDs so his audience could have the recordings and listen to the presentation again. When my friend started doing this, he didn’t need to reach out—the speaker reached out to him because he provided value and therefore had become relevant.
The lesson here is that you need to figure out a way to provide undeniable value, so you remain relevant and can therefore initiate and build a relationship based on solid ground. Avoid asking for favors. Instead, take it upon yourself to do that person a favor that cannot be ignored.
4. Follow up.
Meeting someone is not the same as connecting with that person. The initial point of contact is a meeting; what happens afterward builds a connection. Following up with a person you meet is literally the only way to establish a relationship. First off, always remember to open the channels of communication; get their email or phone number and ascertain their preferred method of communication. It really is powerful and beneficial to follow up; I recently connected with a CEO and HR manager of a well-known company. They gave me their card after we had enjoyed a wonderful day together, talking and laughing. My first move upon getting into my car was to get out my phone, save the number and send a text saying “Thank you, this meeting was quite creative and inspiring. I’m looking forward to the partnership as discussed. I’m grateful.” The reply was “That was fast! You know the game. Well done, Akin.”
One way to follow up is by noting and remembering birthdays and sending well wishes on that day. Additionally, I always give people a gift when I first meet them—a gift that reminds them of me.
In summary, a network with a purpose is extremely valuable and the purpose is to connect with people who need services and those who can give you referrals. Never disregard the fact that in order to have a proper network, we must connect with people.