Every business owner and entrepreneur needs help- there’s just no way around it. No matter if you need help with marketing, getting more clients, PR, or even employees, networking is essential to getting that help. So, I have sought the advice of the trusted CarolRoth.com contributor network of business owners, experts, advisors and entrepreneurs to tell us their best tips for business networking. Their answers are presented below in no particular order.
1. Give to Get
Today, useful relevant information is the currency of networking. There is also a "law" of human nature called the Law of Reciprocity which states that when you do something for someone else, it creates a feeling of indebtedness which must be repaid to "balance the books" so to speak. So, be generous in sharing information, industry trends, and valuable tips with others. And they will develop a trust in you and share in turn.
2. When You are Not Working...
The best networking question to ask: When you are not working, what do you enjoy doing? This opens up the conversation and helps form a true connection.
3. Pay it Forward
If ever the expression "pay it forward" applied, it is in networking. You only reap what you sow. So, throw your very best into every opportunity. Actively engage with people to discover how you can help them - they will remember the effort you made.
4. Networking is Not About YOU
My ONE best networking tip in business is: do not ask for the sale when you first meet someone. For example, when you attend a networking event, don’t view people as your personal ATM machines. People are not banks – they’re people! Get to know them. Ask questions besides, “What do you do?” Ask someone “why” they do what they do and build the conversation from there. Find out what problems they have. Seek first to help and then, schedule a meeting to speak about business.
5. Best Networking Tip
Approach each and every opportunity as a networking opportunity, not just networking events sponsored by Chambers of Commerce. Enter with the mindset, "How can I help YOU?" as opposed to "What's in it for me."
Changing these ten simple words can change your life. People will see the sincerity of your gesture and want to work with you.
6. Stay on Task
Stay focused on business when sharing on the networking sites, i.e., Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. I appreciate people who share interesting facts, information, opinions, etc. I do not want to hear about the weather, whether they showered that morning, etc.. I think networking in today's world is a great way to connect to people that wouldn't necessarily be available, let alone known to us. Contributing information, asking for answers or feedback is golden.
7. Be Counterintuitive to Network
One of the best ways to network at an event or online is to offer a counter or different perspective. I'm not talking about starting an argument, but offering a truly unique take on the topic at hand. People instantly become intrigued, remember you as an 'expert', and ultimately want to hear more. This also works as a great icebreaker and a fantastic way to immediately find like minds with whom you would like to do business.
8. Networking Karma
Going to a networking event, you should have a goal. The obvious goal is to meet someone with money or a job; that's why you go. But that's everyone else's as well. The way to stand out is by changing your networking goal. Your new goal is simple: be there to help others. Give a contact or offer advice. You will be the first person they think of when they need your service or product. The more you help, the more great contacts you'll get. Think of this as networking karma.
9. Network Before You Need to
I advise my coaching clients to build their network before they need it. In this way, their network will be there for them.
The best way to build your network is to be helpful to others. Be a person willing to help, and others will help you when you need it.
Devote at least an hour a week to staying in touch with friends, associates, and customers. Ask what you can do for them - then, follow through and do it.
In this way, you'll create a strong network of folks willing to help you.
10. Turn Them into TV Stars
Turn your expertise or business into a public access television show and then, invite professionals to be interviewed on your show as guest experts. You provide them with exposure, they get to know you, and together, you provide a service educating the public on your area of expertise. Most U.S. towns and cities have a public access television station available for use by anyone living in the area the station serves and many provide the staff to help ordinary citizens create TV shows.
11. Airport Tip: Charge Your Phone
Stuck at the airport with a long delay?
There's bound to be groups of people congregating around the outlets. You know two things about these folks: they're probably annoyed by the delay, and they're double annoyed because they don't have juice for their devices.
So head over, say hi, and smile. Bringing calm and humor to this tense situation is a great way to meet people.
12. Find the PP
When networking, turn on your curiosity and look for the PP. That's the pain and problems. With a fun and curious attitude, listen and ask questions, like "what part of your business keeps you awake at night?" Discover if you can solve this for them or could you refer them to someone in your network. They are just like you; when you have some pain or business problem, we all want to know just how quickly can it get solved to improve profitability. So, be the PP hunter.
13. Promote Entrepreneur Friends
When we send a newsletter or post some news on Facebook, I like to put in a plug for the businesses that we do business with. Our business friends appreciate the comments. Many will include our company in their newsletters. People are always looking for referrals for many services. If a customer trusts you, they will feel comfortable contacting your business affiliates. Your business friends like the passive referral system and will do the same for you.
14. Use that Gym Membership!!!
I work out at Gold's Gym or 24 Hour Fitness in Utah. Whenever I promoted events or found new leads for my business pursuits, where did I find some strong and loyal supporters? Exactly- through both venues. If you are showing up regularly at your gym, the message sent is that YOU are not a couch potato or sedentary. Most proactive people are not couch potatoes or sedentary either. Some big business deals are not "notched" in board rooms.
15. You Belong
The only networking advice you need is that no matter who is in the room, act like you belong.
16. Network to Learn, Not Sell
Small local "networking groups" where the idea is to sell your service/product to one another are a complete and utter waste of time. Network with people in the same industry you are in to learn and share ideas with, or people in related industries that can help you learn a valuable skill like real estate or accounting. Whenever possible, be the "stupidest" person in the room. Network with smart people who can really help. One good idea can be gold; many bad ideas are poison.
17. Use Your Biological Advantage
Everyone picks up an out-to-get-something vibe when you go into a networking event looking to sell or gain something. When you make your goal to find things to appreciate about the people there, you connect on a positive level that leverages one of the last competitive advantages: how you make others feel. People are hungry to be recognized, to be appreciated. You will stand out as you authentically shine the light on them. After all, we are biologically inclined to like others who like us.
18. Host & Connect your Community
Start hosting your own events. You'll be surprised how magical this networking tactic can be. Not only will you serve as the "connector", but you will also be the go-to hub for those looking for services, service providers, and experts. Host social events, educational events, mastermind sessions, etc... The goal with hosting your own event is to cast a niche net while serving the community at large. When you view it from the lens of servant leadership, this is a quick way to be just that.
19. Practice Generous Listening!
Because good networking is about building mutually beneficial relationships, being a good listener is key. Take it a step further- listen for ways to help, or provide an idea or a resource. When your goal is to not only listen, but listen to help, you will position yourself as someone who is worth networking with. And it doesn't matter whether it is a "business-related" help. If I need a good dentist and you have one, I will be very grateful- and seek out ways to reciprocate!
20. Less is More
Every time you think of blasting a message out to your many "friends" you now have online, change your direction and, instead, call up someone you have in your network that you have not seen in awhile and ask to get together.
Studies show in networking that fewer people in your network allow you to actually create more opportunities. Why? Because your smaller group of targeted connections will be able to take the time to provide a much warmer introduction to create a better first impression.
21. In One Word...LinkedIn
LinkedIn is singly the greatest networking platform to my business. It's enabled me to create relationships with others doing similar works or having "sister" focuses that have offered expansion in knowledge and through strategic partnerships - not to mention finding SO many like-minded people within the groups that I now call friends. It's great for me because my business is online and takes me global.
22. Provocative Questions
When networking for business, ask general questions when beginning a new relationship. As the relationship progresses, questions need to become more specific towards the areas where you can help them. This shows interest in them and their business, and deepens the networking relationship.
23. Strangers in the Night or Day
Networking is not so much about who you know, but more about who you don't know. When going to networking events, it is too easy and comfortable to hang out with who you know. But really, is that why you are there? These people know you; what about all the people in the room that don't? When you arrive, say "Hello" to those you know and then move on to meeting at least 5-7 new people you don't know. They will start out as strangers, but could be great connections in the near future.
24. LinkedIn Mutant Mars Attack!
I am a copywriter so I like catchy headlines, which is why you are now reading this blurb. My top networking tactic is with LinkedIn and their "People You May Know" section. I click on every person they suggest who I believe may be a good fit for networking. I try to use this service to contact at least 10 new people every day. Networking does not get any easier than this.
25. Keeping in Touch
We all have hundreds of Facebook "friends", Tweeps, LinkedIn buddies, etc., but how many of these people do you actually reach out to on a regular basis? Networking is about keeping front of mind. Remind people about what you do and find out what they are up to, so you can help them. Just hitting the accept button does not a network make. It takes time and effort. Oh yeah, and face to face coffee time tends to help... remember the HUMAN touch.
26. Become Someone People Like
Recall the feelings of being the new kid on the block, as well as how you met the person who changed your life.
Keep these thoughts near your heart to...
Become someone who invites outsiders into your circle and makes them feel like family.
I am a stranger and yet, I may have the solution to an issue that you are facing or know the person who would be perfect for you. Without meeting me, you will miss out on all the benefits of knowing me.
Be the first to extend your hand and say, “Hello."
27. Remember to Follow Up!
So, you've done the "hard work" of going to the networking event, "schmoozing it up," and collecting vast numbers of business cards. It's all worth nothing if you don't follow up! Schedule time within 24 hours of the event to call or e-mail each person with whom you connected and state what it is you are interested in pursuing with her or him. Don't be surprised if you don't get an immediate reply - schedule time to follow up a second time and even a third time as needed.
28. Who is that...
You must give careful attention to your dress, grooming and accessories. Potential clients will judge the quality of your work by your physical appearance.
Your goal is to present a professional and credible image. You want to build the like and trust factor. Dressing professionally gives you the advantage over your competitors.
29. #1 Secret to Networking
Networking is like dating. You don't take someone out on a first date and then expect to get married. Attempting to sell your services at a networking meeting usually backfires. Passing out business cards when there's no connection is ineffective. It's not the time and place.
This is a relationship building opportunity. When you meet someone, discover common interests, their challenges and goals. Then, set up a time to meet outside of the event. That shift will turn you into a networking stud.
30. Keep Your Mouth Shut!
When attending networking functions, your goal should be to listen. Listen to what others do and how you may be able to help them. If a person you are speaking with is a good networker and connector, they will be equally interested in you and your business. If they don't stop talking and never ask about what you do, find a polite way to excuse yourself from the conversation and move on to chat with others who are willing to reciprocate interest and conversation. Networking is a two way street.
We are seeing a movement towards community and connecting with actual people. Being actively engaged in your community with sincere integrity will provide positive windfalls for your business. Attract and draw attention to yourself online and then, suggest meeting offline if that's possible. Remember, people will generally still engage with those that they like and trust.
32. Be Out Front
One of the best strategies is to arrive at least 20 minutes before the event starts and introduce yourself to those hosting the event. They will remember you and may even endorse you from the podium. This just happened to me a few days ago. That endorsement made it easy for others to come and introduce themselves to me. This will help you be out front. Do not just be on time...arrive a head of time.
33. Put the Fangs Away!
People network like a used car salesman "Heyyyyy, have I got something for you!"
...two words: Chee Sie!
People smell B.S., neediness, and ingenuine-ness from a mile away. Put the fangs away.
Make a connection. Talk to them like they are PEOPLE (aren't they?!). Be respectful and be yourself.
I provide huge value. I'm also playful, straightforward and like to have fun.
CEOs of $1 Billion companies have asked ME for my info and reached out because of this approach.
34. All About Them!
The best networkers make people feel that they care about THEM. How? Get people talking about themselves - ask about things that they enjoy: vacations, family, a good book, their dog, or where they want to be in 5 yrs professionally. Introduce them to others who might help them - personally or professionally. That's where connections are made - treat them like they're your best client - learn everything about THEM! Everyone loves to talk about themselves - let them!
35. Focus on Quality, Not Quantity
When at a networking event, focus on the quality of interactions, not quantity. Three solid conversations with potential prospects or referral sources are MUCH better than 15 business cards.
36. Listen and Qualify
Networking works when you shut up and listen to what other people are saying during a conversation, so that you can derive enough information to discover whether you can help them or someone they know in some way. Seeking this win-win scenario fosters healthy and productive business relationships and solid leads. Think about what you can give, instead of what you can take, because helping each other is what good business is all about.
37. You Gotta Give to Get!
When attending networking events, THE most important thing to do is to be in a giving state of mind. Find out who the people are and how you might be able to help them. Giving first almost always results in others wanting to assist you too. Secondly, you need to know what your goals are - what do YOU need? Be clear and communicate your needs clearly when asked. And, be thankful for any assistance you're given.
38. Whoa! Plan Before You Go!
Remember the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared. Plan before every event. Who do you want to meet? Why? Prepare topics to talk about (your elevator speech, news items, something pertaining to their work, etc.). The day before, plan your wardrobe; make sure it’s in good condition. Get materials ready (business cards, pens, notebook, breath mints, gas in the car, etc.). Plan your route. Leave extra time for parking and walking to the event venue. Arrive early. Now, go forth and network!
39. The Best Tip is to Ignore Tips
Networking is about building relationships, and relationships require rapport. It doesn't matter how many tips you read if don't figure out how to maintain eye contact, show empathy, and truly listen.
Don't focus on memorizing fifty tips for networking. Focus on making the other person feel comfortable. That's the only tip you need.
40. It's Not About You
...and that's the good news! The more you focus on the other person, the better results you'll achieve from networking. Givers get! Unsure what to give? Get curious and ask a lot of questions. What's the coolest thing they're working on right now? What kind of connection would help them the most? What have you always wanted to ask someone who does what they do? Put your attention on the person you're speaking with and you'll be amazed at the number of REAL connections you'll make!
41. Know, Like and Trust
When networking, I find it useful to be around people that you jive with. It's the "know, like, trust" factor. People do business with people they know, like and trust.
42. Meeting of the Minds
Upon meeting someone interesting, and whose business complements yours, ask if they would like to meet for coffee to brainstorm ways of helping one another. The word “help” is the key word, and rarely does anyone turn the offer down. This is also a great qualifier to find those genuinely interested in reciprocity and who possess the desire to further build business. The meeting of the minds often generates creative new ideas leading to a very smooth sale!
43. Be a Golden Retriever
If you are intimidated about approaching people you don't know at networking events, pretend you are a golden retriever. Think about how happy a golden retriever is when it meets people. Isn't it just thinking: "Hi there! I'm your new best friend!?" Keep the idea in your mind that you are a happy golden retriever as you approach each person. You will light up with happiness and folks are attracted to happy people. (Just don't ask them to throw you a stick, and you will be fine!)
44. Ask for Referrals!
Never, ever be afraid to ask for referrals from those you work with. You might be surprised by just how many people are willing to help you succeed.
45. Are You Treating the Pain?
People you network with have real “pain”. If you treat only the pain, and not the patient, then you may gain a onetime customer, but you will likely miss opportunities to win a friend (and customer) for life. So, ask yourself this question: “Do you care more about the person with whom you are networking than the message you have to share with them?” If not, your networking will be harder and less effective.
46. What Can You Do for them?
When you meet new contacts, instead of thinking about what they can do for you, think about what you can do for them. Whether you call it symbiosis, back scratching or just being helpful, the people you assist will remember you and often want to do a favor in return.
47. Leave Your Ego at the Door
Business networking is all about connecting with people because people buy from people. To make this the most emotionally engaging and memorable connection requires you to think about the other person first and foremost. This opportunity is not about you or your ego. So, forget the brochures, the boring sales pitch, and remember to be emotionally engaged and interested in the other person by leaving your EGO at the door.
48. Make it Fun
Simply stated, networking is a craft that I have never excelled at. Why? Because I go for the conversations and learning opportunities, meeting new people, and catching up with colleagues is the added bonus. I picked up a great networking tip recently which can be modified in many ways: introducing myself to those wearing red (tie, dress, shoes, etc.). When I shared why I stopped by to say hello, it helps shatter [some] of the awkwardness of networking.
49. Get Yourself a Twitter Account
I got to the place that I find myself in today through my interaction with social media. Twitter is the best place in my opinion to level the playing field. Twitter teaches us an elevator pitch in 140 characters or fewer. It has brought me success in small ways! At the recent Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, I'm constantly being introduced as the guy who uses Twitter to pitch articles. Not a bad place to be! My upcoming book Apothecary Cocktails came out of a tweet!
50. Ask and Listen!
Ask questions and listen; you'll be amazed at what you can learn.
51. The Problem Prospect
Sometimes, the "problem" prospect -- the one who continues to ask questions, probe, debate, argue, always ask for something -- ends up being the best advocate for you and your company after he or she becomes a customer.
John Bogart of Kett
52. Take a Buddy
It can be challenging to show up to a networking event alone. Take a buddy to help you relax and to keep the conversation moving along. The best part is that you get to introduce each other to the new folks you meet, which turns out to be better than a testimonial. You get to share highlights about your guest and vice versa. Your buddy can be a power partner, client, prospect or business associate. Never go anywhere with your passenger seat empty.
53. Get LINKED-In!
I have developed and found some quality networking experiences from my LinkedIn profile. You can easily identify others in your industry on the site and join groups that are directly or indirectly related to your career. New relationships have opened the door to new business for the company. The group discussions also prove to be an asset in sharing current industry trends and job openings.
54. Break Bread Together
My best networking tip? DON'T share communion wafers at your next business meeting, but DO have lunch! Share lunch with potential clients, referral partners, and joint venture alliances. Eating together dissolves boundaries and creates a sense of trust. A pleasurable meal and friendly conversation create bonding, bonding that leads to exceptional business relationships and more business. So, wherever you network, be sure to set up at least one or two follow-up business lunches after every event.
55. Get Your Leg Over!!
You may not want to do a proper squat exercise. But it's good to know you can. (Demonstrate)
You may not want to do a proper push up. But it's good to know you can. (Demonstrate)
You may not want to kick your leg over the top of this chair. But it's good to know you can. (Demonstrate)
It's good to leave the network group saying WOW and then asking "Are you the man that kicks his leg over the chair?"
Be Different; Be Brave; Be Memorable.
56. Lions& Chambers& Kiwanis Oh My
Ask yourself these questions: How many Chambers of Commerce do you belong to? How many service organizations do you regularly attend? Do you belong to any strong-contract referral organizations like BNI? How many professional affiliated clubs do you belong to?
If your answer totals more than 4 groups – you are spending too much time and money and not getting the results!! Decide your groups strategically - not based on how much face time you get with people! Choose 3 and network with purpose.
57. Let Your Community See You
You need to be active/visible in your community. Don't just join your Chamber of Commerce - serve on a committee or two. Join a service organization. There are many out there for both men and women that do tremendous good within your local area. Check out your local city government. Are there committees or boards that need citizen members? If you let your community know you are there through your support, they will search you out when they need your product or service.
58. Don't Let Fear Stop You
Having been a rather shy individual, I felt uncomfortable going to meet strangers, especially in a group setting. Most professionals will not "bite." Once I really experienced that most people are nice and want to help not only themselves, yet help others too (especially if it's something simple) it made it a lot easier. I was willing to go meet business professionals and network so much easier. Do not give up if you are shy when meeting others in a networking situation.
59. Authenticity is Key to Success
The more real and yourself—authentic—you are, the more appealing you’ll be to others in business, as well as in life. Authenticity is compelling, a direct communication from heart to heart. When you’re being real with people they can feel it on a deep level and begin to relax, because it means they can be real with you. Competition and the need to keep up appearances disappear, and there’s a greater potential for making deep connections and creating lasting business relationships.
60. Listen, Don't Talk!
Most business owners think that networking is about relationships. That's true over time, but what if this is only a 1 time event? How do you become memorable? Ask a strategic question and LISTEN carefully. For example: Who is their dream client? What makes their service/product different than their competition? What is the best way to refer a client to them (ask for key words). Take notes and mark a number on their business card to correspond with those notes. Follow up by phone or email.
61. Need a Job? Use Your Network!
When 2 personalities meet, it's like 2 chemicals: there's a reaction & both people are transformed. Make a list of everyone in your life experiences with whom you had a positive transformation. Pull out the rolodex, review your connections on LinkedIn & organizations in which you are a member. Proceed to re-connect or further connect- NOT BY EMAIL. If possible, connect face to face, but definitely by phone. "Be prepared", timing bad? Set a time to call back & do it. You're on your way to employment!
62. Find Common Ground Quickly
Networking is about connecting with others in a personal way that leaves both parties with a genuine interest to learn more about one another. Our curiosity is piqued. We only do this when we feel a connection to someone. You must ask questions in the first couple minutes that draw out a commonality between you and that person, be it kids, fishing, sports, or travel, something you both can relate to. When we have that first personal connection, the door is open. Focus your questions on them.
63. Listen to Understand
Listen to Understand.
It is easy at networking events to talk about ourselves. What can open the door to new opportunities is your ability to listen deeply to what another person is sharing with you. When you get to know more about their life and work, you discover new opportunities which did not exist before.
Do you have another great business networking tip that wasn’t included? If you do, please share it below. And as always, many thanks to everyone that contributed to this article!