There are any number of different networking groups and events you could choose to attend. To make your networking more productive, it’s worth investing effort in identifying and sampling groups that look like they might suit your personal and business needs – here’s how:
Choose the network. Decide what you’re looking for from a networking group and ask around. Find out what groups are available and ask for recommendations and opinions from people you respect.
Contact the network. Phone the organiser of the group or event and ask questions such as these to help you decide whether this is a good place to invest your time.
§ What types of people attend this event?
§ What industries are represented at this event?
§ How long has it been established?
§ What three words best describe this group?
§ Is there an opportunity to promote my business?
§ Does this network have membership?
§ If so, how does it work? What does it cost?
Commit to the events. When you do find a network you enjoy, schedule the time to attend and become one of the regulars. This is a great way to establish connections with people as well as to let others get to know you.
Get involved. Volunteer to help – serving on a committee or helping with an event is a great way to get to know people: help on registration, collect business cards, offer to be the MC or help to arrange an event.
Always carry your business card. That means both in and out of business hours – even at social and sporting events; you never know when someone may need your services. Ladies, it is a good idea to keep a supply of business cards in all of your handbags while gentlemen, you may like to keep a supply in all your coat jackets.
Never hand out cards with incorrect or crossed out information. It is not professional. Information crossed out may give the appearance that you are disorganized or don’t have attention to detail. Business cards are not expensive to print and you should ensure each one you hand out is an ideal representation of you and your business.
Keep a good supply of cards. Don’t allow yourself to be in a position where you can’t give someone your card. Be aware of your stock and reorder before you get too low.
Ask for a business card. When you have met someone and had conversation ask, “May I have your card?” Always ask for their card first. Once you have received it then ask, “May I give you my card?” Don’t always assume that they will want your card. It is more polite to give it to them after they have said yes.
Ask permission. If you want to write details on someone’s card (while you are still with them) always ask, “Do you mind if I make a note on the back of you card?” Some people invest substantial money in their cards and asking this question demonstrates your respect.
Write notes to yourself. When you have finished a conversation with someone, take a moment to write something about him or her on the back of his or her card. This will help jog your memory when you contact them after the event.
After each networking event I gather all the cards I have collected and put a rubber band around them together with note to remind myself of which event I met these people at. I place the pile of cards on my laptop keyboard so I that I action them the next day. Some people invest in contact management systems, and many of them are good, however you can still establish an effective contact system using basic tools such as a business card holder and Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes.
Schedule follow up time. Whenever I book a networking event into my schedule I always book another 30-minute appointment with myself for the day after the event to follow up with the organisers and the people I meet.
Send handwritten cards. I handwrite thank you cards for those people I made a real connection with. I thank them for the time we spent, for the information they gave me or acknowledge some other connection that we made. Receiving a hand written card in the mail is so unusual and personal that it delivers with it a powerful impression, far stronger than a quick email might.
Book a 20-minute coffee. If you have connected with someone at an event and you want to know more about them and their business, make an appointment with them for a 20-minute coffee. Twenty minutes is an easy appointment for most people to fit into their schedule. It indicates that you value their time and shows that you are genuine about wanting to find out more about them. When you contact them you might say, “I’d like to invite you for a 20-minute coffee so I can find out more about what you do, what day is most suitable for you?” Make sure you honour the 20-minutes. At the 20-minute mark I always stop the meeting and say, “I promised it would only take 20-minutes so thank you for your time”. At this point the person you are with is able to choose whether they want to end the meeting or continue.
Send a thank you to the event organiser. Take the time to thank the organisers of the event, let them know why you found it valuable and include your business card in the envelope. There is a lot of time and energy that goes into organising events and people appreciate you taking the time to acknowledge that.