- Business networking isn’t just about meeting people, it’s meeting the right people.
- It’s also about making friends who share common career interests – not just suffering through boring events
- Here’s how I adapted the people skills I learned as a journalist to the world of business networking
If there’s one job in the world that truly depends on business networking, it’s that of a business reporter. Making contacts, tracking down leads, and following up with sources: it’s a journalist’s daily routine. In my years covering business topics at a newspaper, I learned the importance of building up rapport with everyone from the country club valet to executives at some of the world’s largest companies.
Those networking skills came in handy in my days as a freelancer hustling for gigs, and today as an entrepreneur working to grow my own business.
You don’t need me to tell you that professional networking is the number one way to find a job, essential for making business deals, and can be make or break for someone starting a business.
Here are my tried and tested networking tips so you can expand your business network like it’s your job. By following this advice, you’ll make the most of your time and connect with truly meaningful contacts who can help you reach your professional goals, whatever they may be.
Find your gurus.
When a journalist starts to cover a new beat, the first step is finding that person – or a few of them – who know everybody who’s anybody within that domain. Why start from scratch when you can pick the brain of someone who has already done years of work? Most of these networking gurus are experts in their field and are happy to share their knowledge with someone who shows a strong interest in what they do, especially if you might be a useful contact for them in the future.
Try someone who has a leading blog on the area you work in, who organizes important networking events, or who is regularly interviewed by the media as an expert or analyst. These kinds of people are much more easy to access than a well-known CEO, top selling author or celebrity – but are likely to be just as valuable, or maybe even more so, in terms of being able to give you a lay of the land and introduce you to more of the right people.
An introduction is powerful. It takes you from being a nobody, to being a member of a trusted circle. A whopping 71% of US human-resource professionals say that referral candidates get high priority when deciding whom to hire. So how can you get more introductions? A key journalist tactic is this one: At the end of every interview (or conversation), ask your contact who else you should talk to.
This has an exponential effect on growing your relevant business network. If the person is willing to write an introductory email for you, great! Otherwise, name dropping is nearly as good. You can legitimately reach out to the person they recommend talking to and say: “So-and-so said I should talk to you about this topic” – instantly getting their attention.
The same strategy works even better at in-person networking events, where you can get recommendations on whom to talk to on the spot and then name drop them just seconds later. However…
If all else fails, go for the direct approach.
What used to be known as “pounding the phones”, nowadays, is much easier. You no longer have to shoot in the dark, calling the company switchboard and getting passed around to 20 people who have no interest in talking to you. Now it’s pretty easy to track down just about anybody via social media, where you’ll often find their full name and job title. However, a prospective client or employer isn’t going to take you as seriously if you contact them via tweet, and you might not have the gall to call the switchboard and ask to talk to the person directly.
Email is the professional communication tool of choice. But – how can you find the right email account? Emails addresses are often easy to guess, since they are usually a combination of the person’s name and the company they work for. In a previous blog post we ran down different apps that make this process much easier and save you from relying purely on trial and error.
(By the way, if you’re looking for accessory tools for the task, Bizzabo produced this great list of networking apps you shouldn’t miss).
Once you have the email, it’s time for the cold call – err, cold email. Briefly explain who you are, get straight to the point about why you are reaching out, and suggest setting up a call or meeting to talk about it more. Remember, professional networking is about building relationships – which is best done in person, or at least over the phone.
Choose professional networking events wisely.
While one event can be gold for one person, it can be totally useless for another. Identify all the possible events that could be relevant for you and narrow them down based on which most closely align your goals. Set a practical target for a number of events to attend per month or quarter, and then schedule them into your calendar like business meetings so you don’t forget to attend!
Oftentimes smaller, more specialized events are more useful than huge ones. If you do attend large events, make sure to know who you want to spend your limited time talking to, and reach out to them before the event. Then use the “who else would you recommend I talk to” trick to meet more interesting people at the event you may not have thought about beforehand.
“Coffee breaks and after parties tend to be the opportune moments to actually connect with people”
A lot of so-called networking events are filled with seminars and keynote speeches, but coffee breaks and after parties tend to be the opportune moments to actually connect with people. You might want to have a goal in mind for the number of people you want to connect with before you leave. That can help you avoid spending too much time talking to just one person and leaving before your goal is met.
Communicate what you do efficiently and often.
You should know exactly what it is you are selling, boil it down to one sentence, and repeat that sentence every chance you get (both online and off).
I mean every time you ask a question in front of an audience, every time you meet a new potential business contact, and every time you post in your professional social networks.
The more you effectively communicate what it is you do, the more people will know who you are and get in touch if they need what you offer. It will also make them think of you when someone else asks for a recommendation.
Here are a few examples of one liners I could use:
- “I blog for MailTrack, the double-check in your email.”
- “I’m a freelance business journalist.”
- “I’m co-founder of a multilingual content agency.”
Those are all equally true, but each gives a totally different picture of who I am and what I offer. It’s important to keep it short, because time is limited. And, even when it isn’t, you don’t want to come on too strong or bore your new contact with information they didn’t ask for. Once you’ve introduced yourself, it’s very likely that the contact could ask you more about yourself or your business, and that’s the moment to give them your whole spiel.
Becoming the “it” person by hosting your own business networking events
Tired of networking groups and events that aren’t relevant to you? Think about organizing your own.
Social media tools like LinkedIn, Facebook and Meetup make it easy to form groups around different professional interests. Looking for local tech talent? Create an “iOS developers in London” group. Want to meet other urban planning enthusiasts? Create “Urban planners of the world unite.”
By creating your own professional networking group around a topic you are passionate about, suddenly, everyone in your business network will associate you with that thing. It takes some work to get a group off the ground and to organize events, but the networking benefits are huge.
Make it easy for people to find you online.
Beef up your social media presence, set up a new website, or do whatever you need to do so that when someone puts your name in Google, relevant information about you is the first thing to pop up.
Social media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram show up high in search, so make sure those profiles reflect the persona you want to project. Consider changing your username on your personal accounts (or make them private) so they don’t show up when professional contacts search your full name.
It’s not exactly a business networking skill, but having a strong online presence should be a part of your overall strategy to make a name for yourself in your business or niche.
Use your people skills and don’t be afraid to fraternize.
Any journalist would be crazy to say ‘no’ to a social invitation from an important source. A night on the town or a day at a sporting event is a golden opportunity to get to know someone on a personal level and form a lasting relationship. As venture capitalist, entrepreneur and ace networker, Rich Stromback says “The key to networking is to stop networking.”
You might be wary about letting loose in front of someone who could be the connection to your dream job or an important business deal. That’s normal, especially when you’re first getting to know someone. My advice is to take social cues from the other person on what behavior is appropriate. For example, if they are drinking, stay one step behind them with the alcohol. You probably don’t want to be the only one on the dance floor. But, who knows? The most important is to be yourself and trust in your people skills. Networking is ultimately about making friends… Friends who just happen to be able to help you professionally!
Persistence is key – follow up!
Once you’ve made a new contact, it’s important to keep in touch to continue building the relationship. A simple follow-up email —such as “It was nice to finally meet you in person” or “Here’s that article I was telling you about”—is a nice and unassuming gesture that keeps you fresh in their mind. Check out my previous post on writing follow-up emails. Don’t worry about seeming pushy. If you are someone they consider worth talking to, your contact will appreciate the persistence. And, if you’re not, well, you never had anything to lose in the first place!