Modern commercial markets are abuzz with noise and interference, making it more important than ever before to distinguish your personal brand. Networking events and opportunities are fertile grounds for advancing your cause, providing forums for padding your Rolodex and building professional relationships.
With limited time and specific objectives driving your networking strategies, it’s up to you to maximize each opportunity, making the most of chance meetings and planned networking events. Consider these common networking concerns as you find your comfort zone courting professional contacts.
Networking is About Relationships Not Money
Networking suffers from poor association; many professionals struggle with the networking “hustle.” Interacting with peers and industry stakeholders can be rewarding, but the process isn’t always well-liked. If you’re not eager to rub elbows at networking events, it may help to view the professional function in a different light.
You already have a network. Whether or not you deliberately established the group, everyone you know is in your network. In practice, professional networking is simply expanding your circle of acquaintance, but with a purpose in mind. That doesn’t mean professional relationships are disposable. On the contrary, the best networking success is measured with lasting, authentic relationships that benefit everyone involved.
Give and Take for Networking Success
Effective networking isn’t only a numbers game, acquiring as many professional contacts as possible, without regard for the people behind the names. Give and take is the name of the game, so you’ll benefit most by bringing something to the table. Mutual gains cement networks, forging symbiotic relationships that keep everyone moving in their desired directions.
Making money together is a great outcome, but you should start slowly when networking, striving to first have a positive influence on the relationship. Takers beware: one-sided relationships won’t grease the wheels of networking success. Instead of centering on your own needs, welcome the exchange of information, taking time to listen closely to associates. Their experience and wisdom add invaluable perspective to your professional frame of reference.
Network Your Brand
Networking opportunities advance your brand with the best possible audience. Participating can help you reach potential customers and collaborators, as well as industry advocates and stakeholders from related businesses. Astute networking increases your visibility within the business community and boosts brand awareness (even if it is only your name).
No one knows your business better than you do. Networking provides a chance for you to tell your own story, highlighting the benefits of the goods and services you represent. Each networking interaction adds a chapter to your story, contributing to your professional reputation. Perception goes both ways, so you have to be sure your networking efforts make a positive impression or risk developing a bad reputation.
Maximizing Professional Networking Opportunities at Conferences and Events
Networking isn’t reserved for a particular platform or location; opportunities are what you make of them. Conferences drawing groups of peers and people working in related industries are prime occasions to make contacts, advance your personal brand, and elevate your presence in the industry. Forbes contributor, Joan Michelson recently shared tips and tactics for maximizing networking opportunities, particularly at professional gatherings and industry events.
It is known many small business operators are stretched thin, so most operators must pick and choose from a wide berth of industry conferences, seminars, and social events. You simply cannot attend every function, so you must maximize networking interactions, emphasizing the gatherings and events that will contribute the most to reaching your business objectives.
- Strategize – When time is limited, you have to make the most of each chance to network with other professionals working in your field. Before making time commitments, ask yourself, “Why?” Deliberately choosing the opportunities with the greatest potential ensures a networking purpose beyond rubbing elbows.
- Consider Your Agenda – You may hope to make specific industry contacts at an event. Or attending may be your way of making an appearance with contemporaries and collaborators. Networking around a particular subject or development may require you to reach out to associates from a particular commercial discipline. Whatever your focus, establishing a game plan keeps you focused on networking objectives.
- Who do you want to meet? – Events can be overwhelming, so it helps to make a short list of contacts you’d like to make while attending a conference or professional gathering. Are you primed to hone in on business prospects? Or do you hope to meet influencers and media members aligned with your interests? Are you in recruiting mode, prospecting candidates for a position with your organization? Or do you need collaboration on a particular project? A networking wish list can help you check all the boxes at an industry conference.
- Lay the Groundwork – Thinking on your toes is one thing, but planned networking opportunities allow time to prepare. If you’re sold on meeting a particular person, research their professional history and find common ground with your own. For the most productive interactions, prepare questions in advance, covering subjects with which your contact is familiar. Before going face-to-face with business associates, formulate central points to help steer the meeting in the desired direction.
- Manage Networking Contacts – Despite your best intentions remembering colleagues, it is better to take notes than forget important contacts. Business cards are great places to jot things down, providing clues to jog your memory after a busy networking event. When follow-up is required, it helps to devise a system for managing contacts, even if business card reminders are all it takes to keep you on track.
Professional networking yields information, customers, collaboration, guidance, and good times. The exercise can help you build lasting relationships in your field and develop business prospects, which may someday add to your bottom line.