Professional networking is a gateway to finding more work opportunities, more clients, and more avenues for professional advancement. No matter what your goals are, networking can help you achieve them. However, there are good and bad ways to approach networking, and there are definitive ways you can improve your networking approach.
Which strategies are best to improve your networking strategy?
Goal Setting and High-Level Strategy
First, spend some time evaluating your goals and defining your high-level strategy. Too many people use “networking” as the be-all, end-all primary objective. What is it you’re actually trying to achieve? Are you trying to find leads for your business? Are you interested in meeting people who can lend you advice in this industry?
Write down your top-level goal, then break it down into sub-goals that you can accomplish more easily. For example, if your main purpose is to meet prospective investors and acquire funding for your startup, set a goal to meet 1-2 investors or entrepreneurs at each networking event you attend or each week. The more specific and more granular your goals are, the easier they’re going to be to achieve—and the less likely it will be for your networking strategy to go off the rails.
Next, polish your time efficiency. It’s important to use your time wisely throughout your networking approach:
- Use a business card scanner. In-person networking events are still some of the best ways to meet people, and typically, you’ll use these events to collect physical business cards from other people. Organizing these business cards can be a pain, and manually entering their data into a CRM is even more time-consuming. Instead, make use of an automatic business card scanner to take care of the task for you.
- Meet new people in short intervals. At networking events, try not to spend too much time attached to any single person. These are opportunities to meet many different people in the span of an hour or two, so if you spend 45 minutes in conversation with one person, you might miss out on some incredible potential meets. Keep your conversations light and concise, and keep moving on to others when appropriate.
- Choose the right locations and opportunities. Get more value out of your networking strategy by spending more time at the locations and on platforms most likely to yield value; similarly, avoid the locations and platforms that result in few significant meetings. Take the time to analyze the quality of the leads and contacts you meet on each platform, and research your primary demographics. Where are the best people hanging out? Which platforms are they using?
Making Better Connections
There are also some tips you can use to make better connections. That means forming a better first impression and walking away with a warm introduction.
- Don’t be fake. Some people try to network by putting on an overly nice, “businessy” persona. This can be a turnoff to people looking for a sincere connection. Instead, just be yourself. Feel free to joke around and show off your natural personality.
- Avoid “working the room.” While it’s important to meet lots of people, you also don’t want to be perceived as “working the room.” Otherwise, people will dread meeting you, and they may walk away with a bad impression of you.
- Pitch intelligently. For the most part, you should avoid making a direct pitch for your business or leading into a sale. Your initial meetings should be warm and cordial—not a platform for you to try and close a deal. People don’t like to feel pressured or manipulated.
Nurturing and Follow-Up
Meeting people is just the first phase of any quality networking strategy. If you want to see better results, you’ll also need a plan to nurture those contacts and follow up with them. Reach out to the people you met a few days after your initial meeting, and consider setting up a lunch meeting for the future. Then, create a system to follow up with your contacts at regular intervals, so you remain top of mind.
Reflection and Improvement
Finally, spend time reflecting on your networking efforts after each new meeting and each subsequent interaction. Take note of things you did well and things you could have done better. You probably won’t receive direct feedback about the quality of your networking efforts, so it’s on you to identify your own areas for potential improvement.
If you follow these strategies, you’ll be able to network more effectively. That means meeting more people, improving the quality of your connections, and eventually getting access to more resources and opportunities. There’s no such thing as a perfect networking strategy, so challenge yourself to keep adapting and improving.