Networking, But Not Selling, is Fine in Social Settings
by Evon G. Rosen
Many people believe they know how to network effectively because they've been networking for years. But there's always room for improvement.
Most of us think of specific business-related events as "networking opportunities," but every place we go provides an opportunity to network. When we limit our networking to specific times and locations, we run the risk of missing out on great opportunities to meet people and forge connections that could result in important business opportunities.
Even in social settings we should be networking. Many people believe that a social setting is not the place for networking and discussing business. It's important to remember, however, that networking is not selling. Networking doesn't necessarily imply a business discussion. Networking is connecting with people and creating relationships. It's developing a base of contacts from which we can exchange resources and information, and connecting with people can happen at any time, in any place.
That being said, to more effectively network in both business and social settings, try to plan ahead as much as possible. Try to find out specifically who, or at least what type of people (attorneys, CPAs, bankers, etc.), will be at the event you're going to attend. That will help you plan the tenor of your conversations and formulate the questions you'll want to ask in order to get useful information in return.
The right questions
Asking the right questions is probably the most important aspect of networking. The right questions are productive questions that provide you with information that is helpful to you and your business.
If you're mingling with a group of attorneys, for example, you might plan to ask each one, "What is your specialty or area of expertise?" and, "Who is your target market?" and, "Where do you get most of your referrals?" Or, if you're attending a party, you might want to ask each new person you meet, "What does your company do?" and, "Who is your target market?" and, "What do you do for your firm?"
You might also want to get a specific name of someone who performs a function related to your business. For example, if you're a human relations specialist, you might also ask, "Who handles your firm's HR function?"
As in the examples above, it's advisable not to overwhelm people by asking too many questions. Ask a maximum of three or four open-ended questions designed to get the person to provide you with some useful details about their business; not questions that can by answered just "yes" or "no." You'll also notice that the questions are pretty general, not designed to seem like you're giving the person the third degree. And they stop short of really getting into a specific business discussion.
If you find that you do want a more in-depth business discussion with someone, ask if you can call him or her the following day to set up a meeting. A good closing might be to say, "I've enjoyed meeting you. I think we might be able to help each other develop some business; may I call you tomorrow to talk more?" Then move on and talk with someone else.
Obviously, when you speak with people and inquire about who they are and what they do, they're going to want to know some information about you. Having a prepared introductory statement will help ensure that you don't stumble over words or ramble. Make sure, too, that your introductory statement includes how others can benefit from you or your company's product or service. This will be more effective than just stating your name, your company and your job title.
You can also see that by asking only a few questions, you're not going to spend a very long time with each person you meet. Remember, your goal is just to obtain some preliminary information that you can build upon at a later date. This will make your networking not only more effective in terms of the productive information you acquire about each person you meet, but also gives you time to network with more people.
Another tip for networking more effectively is that the words "fashionably late" should not be part of your vocabulary.
Spread the wealth
Always arrive at an event early, preferably during registration, as this is the best time to circulate. Once the program begins, your time to meet people is over until there's a break, and breaks are usually pretty short in duration. Your most productive networking opportunity, therefore, is before the event actually begins.
During events that have luncheons or receptions, while it may be easier and sometimes more fun to stay with the same one or few people you know, take advantage of the opportunity to meet and talk with as many people as possible. While this may sound pretty basic, think back to some of the recent events you've attended. You've probably noticed that people tend to stick with the people they know because it's more comfortable. If you really want to be more effective in your networking efforts, however, you've got to separate yourself from your colleagues and friends. You've got to be a risk-taker and not be afraid to approach people who are standing alone, or to sit next to strangers. When seated at a table of eight or 10 people, suggest that people introduce themselves to get the conversation going.
Opportunities for connecting with people are everywhere you just have to pursue them.
Evon G. Rosen is senior vice president and director of marketing for Celtic Capital Corp., a provider of asset based capital. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Entrepreneur's Notebook is a regular column contributed by EC2, The Annenberg Incubator Project, a center for multimedia and electronic communications at the University of Southern California. Contact James Klein at (213) 743-1759 with feedback and topic suggestions.
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