Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Network Your Way to Career Success Through Building Strong Relationships


A solid handshake is the first step towards
forming a relationship. 

Written by Robyn T. Braley

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m a habitual networker. I just can’t stop. I network everywhere I go.


Why? Because I have made business connections that resulted in  contracts at every kind of event you can name.


The purpose of networking is not to collect a pocket full of business cards. It is  to connect and begin a conversation that will lead to forming some level of relationship.

 

Networking is an inexpensive but highly effective marketing tool. It is a great way to build your personal or company brand. 

For some, networking is natural and easy. For others, it is one of the most frightening exercises you can imagine.


Develop a strategy. Put your game face on!

If you accept that your brand is what others think it is, developing your networking skills will help make a great first impression.

Becoming a networking champion requires strategy, discipline and focus. This post offers tips that will help improve your game. The more you do it, the better you will become.

How to Prepare
Meaningful conversation is daunting for some people. If that describes you, spend time each week reading articles about current affairs, sports, local issues and political or business topics.

If you can only spend an hour per week studying, do it. If you can spend more time, that is even better. It won’t take many weeks until you accumulate a bank of knowledge that you can draw on. 

There are two reasons why expanding your knowledge bank is important.

1.    It allows you to contribute and add value to conversations
2.    It provides a background for asking smart questions
3.    It gives you confidence

Business Card
Your business card is your badge. Take them everywhere.

If you own your company, invest in a designer. Format your card so it is clean and engaging. Make sure the key contact information flows and is easy to read.

You are the first impression. You're business card is the second.

Invest in thicker paper. A $50 saving will be lost if your prospect forms a negative impression due to a flimsy card that is cluttered with unneeded information.

Place your cards in one pocket and organize them so you can easily pull them out facing the right way. Take the other person’s card, look at it, and place it in your opposite pocket.

Never be in the position of having to sort through used tissues or $10 in change to find your card. Also, don't be the person who carries a smudged, bent card "somewhere" in their wallet. 

At a reception of 3,000 plus people you may gather 20-30 cards. After you finish a conversation, move to the side and write relevant notes on the back of each person's card. The cues will remind you why you need to remember who they are. 

Who Will be There
Check out an upcoming event to gain a sense of who will be there. If you have access to a list of attendees, identify people you want to meet. 

As a brand specialist, I aim for the Marketing or Communications VP or the business owner.

Visit their LinkedIn profile and company website. I can guarantee they will check out yours if you make a good impression at the event. LinkedIn profiles give you conversation starters for when you finally meet them.

Don’t overthink the preparation. If it is a business event there will probably be people you want to meet. I have attended events where I didn't know anyone and left with 3-4 solid leads.



Segmenting Targets 

In creating your plan, think in terms of segments. This informal process will help you think  strategically.
  • 1.    Prospects
  • 2.    Existing clients
  • 3.    Suppliers
  • 4.    Collaborative partners
  • 5.    Connectors
  • 6.    Information sources

In the above list 1-4 are self explanatory. As for 5 and 6, a connector is someone who can introduce you to other people. An information source is someone who can provide key information about things you need to know about prospective clients.
Never undervalue a conversation. Respect everyone.
Why? First, it’s the professional thing to do. Second, you never know what influence the person you are talking to has or who they will become. Third, the person you really want to impress may observe you being a jerk. A bad first impression is hard to overcome.  


Social Media

Make sure your social media channels are business focused. If your name is googled, what will come up? Try it. Google my name. 

In today's business environment, there is no night and day because of social media. There is no career life that is totally separated from your personal life. If your private accounts are loaded with rants or lewd comments, get rid of them. They will be found. 

Goal Setting
Setting goals will help keep you focused and mentally engaged. They will remind you to keep moving from person to person and not become bogged down.
One of the goals may be to gather information to use later. Another can be to identify specific people make decisions about the products or services you represent. 
Setting goals will help you stay focused.
Don’t go overboard. Part of the networking fun is the spontaneity of the moment. You never know who you might meet or what you might learn. The key is to keep moving from person to person. 
Cue the Elevator Speech
An elevator speech is meant to be a conversation-starter about your business. The challenge is to use as few words as possible. A well crafted speech will qualify your ability to meet client needs while hinting at the benefits you offer. It will prompt them to want to know more.


How do You Help People?
Today's most effective advertising tells stories about products, services or companies that solve problems. Often, the brand is not even mentioned until the very end.  

The same principle applies to networking. First, you must earn the right to tell your story. You must form an introductory relationship through meaningful conversation.

At some point the other person will ask what you do which provides a natural transition to your elevator speech.  

Where to Find Events
The best way to network is to go to events where there will be people you want to meet.

I connected with a new client during the reception following a funeral. I would never have been able to break through his gatekeeper system through cold calling. Much of his business is conducted in other countries where he spends much of his time.   

I connected with another client at a fundraising event. I was there because I believed in the cause and meeting my new client was a bonus.

Of course, there are invitation only events. Call the receptionist at the host organization and ask to be added to the list. If that doesn't work, call someone in your network that has an "in" and ask if you can go as their guest. Don't be timid. 

·         Signup for newsletters from associations that have events where you want to be
·         Connect through social media with organizations that produce events
·         Read the business news sections of newspapers
·         Scan through trade magazines
·         Check trade show schedules at your local convention centre
·         Join your chamber of commerce
·         Call and ask for specific information

Action! Take One
The day of the event has arrived. You’re all set. You enter the room and feel the buzz of conversation. You approach your first prospect.

Open the conversation by extending your right hand. Lean in slightly and make solid eye contact as you say the person's  name. People automatically respond to this timeless tradition.

Conversely, end a conversation the same way. You never need to feel uncomfortable ending a conversation. Extend your right hand, express how glad you are to have met them and move to the food or drinks bar.

Body Language
A great smile is your number one tool of engagement. Look like a person someone else would like to meet.


Active listening is central to meaningful communication. Listening implies you are not talking! Head nods with positive verbal sounds acknowledge you hear what is being said. Watch their body language for hidden messages.

Stand firmly with your feet slightly apart. Do not slouch. Eye contact is important, but don’t be creepy.

What to Wear
Wear appropriate cloths. If there will be senior executives in attendance, a suit and open shirt is appropriate. 

I’ve spoken at trade show conferences where people wore their jobsite cloths while manning the company booth and later at the reception. They looked – and felt – totally out of place.  

For some events, the opposite may be true. I live in Calgary, Alberta. We host the world-famous Exhibition and Stampede that draws 1.3 million people. Churches, communities, politicians and various companies host 100's of private and public pancake breakfasts and barbecues. It is a networking festival.

People never wear business suits. They dress in western wear for the duration of the 10 day event. If you wear a suit everyone knows you are from somewhere else.

Make some calls and find out what the dress code is. If in doubt, chose casual business with a sport jacket. If noone else is wearing a jacket, take yours off.

Follow Up
A company exhibited at trade shows throughout North America. They seldom followed up most of the contacts that were made. Followup is where the gold is.

Email the people you met the following day if possible. Make a short relevant comment about the event. Ask for permission to keep in contact in the future. Next, find their LinkedIn profile or other social media channel and send a request to friend, follow or connect.

If you have a regular email program, add their name. That provides a natural way to stay in contact by offering value through providing relevant content. They can opt-out if your enews is not wanted.

Network Everywhere
  • Business conferences
  • Business networking clubs
  • Professional events
  • Community events
  • Service clubs
  • Sports events
  • Political events
  • Church
  • Funerals
  • Weddings
  • Social events
  • Seminars
  • In the mall
  • On vacation

Bonus - What Not to Do

  1. Do not force your business card into a prospect’s hand and machine gun a story of how amazing you are
  2. Do not force yourself into an existing conversation. The participants will soon move to another part of the room
  3. Do not be conversation dominating Darrell. DDs are considered obnoxious
  4. Do not try to prove you are the smartest, the trendiest or the most successful
  5. Do not try to pass yourself off as something you are not
  6. Do not mistake the social side of networking for the business side

What do you think? Are you an avid networker? Do you have tips? I want to hear from you. Please comment below.  


Robyn T. Braley is a brand specialist, writer, and speaker. He is also a media commentator and Rotarian. Robyn is the President of UniMark Creative which does website design, video production, media services (editorial and advertising), and graphic design. He speaks at business conferences and also blogs about branding. 

Contact Robyn

Email: robyn@robyntbraley.com   Connect on LinkedIn Follow on Twitter: @RobynTBraley 


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