Are you good at networking? I mean, I’d like to think so too. Well, let me break down two scenarios and let me know which sounds more like you.
1. The More Likely Scenario ….
It’s a casual Sunday night and you’re watching your Eagles beat the Skins while lounging in the living room on your Macbook Pro. As you scroll your Facebook timeline you notice a friend is attending an upcoming Tech Meetup in Philly, so you click the link to check it out. After a few minutes of reading through the criteria you decide that it’s worth attending so you click to join and quickly add it to your calendar. Networking couldn’t be easier. Thanks technology.
Your week flies by, per usual. Next thing you know it’s a few days before the event and you notice this obscure Google Calendar block and click to find out what you forgot about. Seems that two nights from now you have a marketing meetup with some locals in your city. Awesome, but you kind of wish you planned a little better because it’s Thursday night and you wanted to watch the Eagles beat the Giants. A couple of your friends mentioned a tailgate the previous weekend to make matters worse. Plus, you can’t turn down John’s buffalo chicken dip. Half-heartedly you convince yourself to do both and that you’ll stop by the networking event at 630 for an hour, that way you can catch a little bit of the tailgate and go to the game. At this point you’re treating the networking opportunity like you did Aunt Sally’s Sunday dinners when you were 12. Whatever, this should work out; maybe you’ll even get a decent connection, making the early exit excusable.
Thursday comes around quicker than usual. You forget about the event this morning in the rush preparing for work and the game. Convincing yourself you’ve dressed decent enough with your Eagles shirt beneath the J Crew button down, you head out for the day. You’re wearing nice dark blue jeans and some brown Kenneth Cole’s from years ago. Don’t worry, they’re gameday acceptable. As your day concludes you’re taking bets with your boys on tonight’s spread instead of double checking the networking location and attendance. It’s 6:02 and you casually realize the event is across town in the headache that is Center City. Lovely! Already annoyed, you quickly pack up as you request an Uber, ready to get this thing over with. During your 23 minute ride across town you check a few emails, make a call, text your buddies, and take a quick glance at the venue (just to remind yourself what’s going on there).
After a quick pep talk, you jump out of the car, somewhat excited, but for the wrong reasons. While opening the door you notice free food. Surprise win. Maybe this was worth it. Walking over to the cash bar you reach for your business cards. You have 4. You smirk thinking to yourself how this is all the more reason to leave early. I mean, how can you network without business cards? You start snacking on the cheese, drinking your Stella, and out of the corner of your eye you catch a previous acquaintance whom you’ve met many times, but simply can’t never remember his name. Thankfully, you have someone to your other side whom you considered chatting with, so you quickly pull them into the conversation as the ‘stranger’ comes over. You fake a quick cordial introduction, using this 3rd party citizen as a baseball mit to catch the acquaintances’ name. Jared. Never would have guessed. Oh well, life goes on, and so does this conversation of tax and real estate for the next 30 minutes.
Realizing you’d rather be slugging beers with the boys, you quickly wrap up the conversation with Jared. ‘No, man, I don’t need to know about your new condo with the exposed brick living room’. Now, more annoyed than ever, you get ready to leave, confirming your previous expectations of the event being a waste. Well, you can’t leave without at least one good connection so you quickly jump into another group conversation about the new tech startup people are buzzing about, just to find out that someone else builds websites. Finally! Alright, let’s trade cards and attempt to email one another. Success, right?
Time to dip. Freedom, at last. You quickly snag another Uber and tell him to step on it down to Xfinity Live. You totally forgot you still have your briefcase as you rip off your button down exposing your faded eagles shirt, losing your business card in the process. Pulling up to the tailgate you jump out disregarding any chance you had to compartmentalize the networking event you just wasted. To make matters worse, the Eagles lose in overtime and you go home defeated. The next morning you wake up in despair as you check your pants and bank account. Both depleted.
2. The Second, Less Likely Scenario….
It’s a casual Sunday night and you’re watching your Eagles beat the Skins while lounging in the living room on your Macbook Pro. Instead of browsing Facebook you decide to catch up on emails and search for networking opportunities online. While touring Meetup.com and Eventbrite, you come across a Philly Tech Meetup happening downtown two Thursdays from today. Interesting enough to catch your attention, so why not click to learn more? You intently search through each attendee, diligently noting their business and background. For those in your industry (digital marketing) you decide to hunt a little further, finding them on Linkedin and noting their career path. Instead of trying to memorize, you open Google Keep, the perfect smartphone note system (synced with Google and the Cloud). You break your list into two groups then export to a Google Sheet: Networking opportunity vs Sales opportunity. You highlight sales because a few business leaders are attending in hopes to learn more about certain aspects of digital marketing… your time to shine.
About an hour goes by and you’ve compiled two lists that include name, business, brief bio, and opportunity. You can add to this list later, but this is a good starting point for research and preparation. In the back of your mind you remind yourself of something your father instilled in you, “Luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity”. And yes, you believe in luck. You didn’t read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell for nothing.
A few days go by as you work diligently towards your business goals and current projects. Google Calendar and Gmail inbox at the forefront of your organization. Certain Google Chrome Extensions and reminders keeping you on track all the same.
A week before the event your calendar pops up with a link to your notes sheet. Taking another look is important for keeping the opportunities top of mind. Not only do you glance at your notes, you actually dig deeper into each individual, creeping about as if you’re Facebook stalking an ex. Your main goal for each person is to find a point of reference so that you can have something of mutual interest for a discussion; maybe that link is a 2nd degree connection, the same college, or even a sports team. Regardless, you note the importance and factor that into your eventual ‘pitch’. Let’s be honest, people are quick to judge, so the first impression is key.
The weekend is rather low key, granted it’s a bye week. Monday comes around and you start digging on social media. You find the event on Facebook and mark as attending, followed by an obnoxious but necessary share on your timeline. You look through the others attending and find them on Twitter and Instagram. Too soon to follow, but good to get a more personal glance. At the forefront of your goals, you remind yourself that this is a game of chess. Networking is not about going through the motions. You need a plan of action. What do you want from all of this? Do you want a new client, a new partner, a new media source? Forbes magazine lists 6 key steps, with the plan being the first major component. At the end of the day, you’re running a business, and growth is pivotal. Don’t get me wrong, making friends is definitely a bonus, but let’s stay focused.
Wednesday night is rather short lived. You get back from the gym, make dinner, get cleaned up and spend a few minutes recapping the process while laying out clothes for the day. You plan to dress business casual: button down, blazer, dark jeans and nice loafers. Dressing to impress is important, but there’s no need to come off brazen. The goal is to be approachable, friendly, and respectable; then let your personality do the rest. While going to bed early you begin to mentally prepare for tomorrow. One secret to success is picturing the success and believing in it. Thoughts become things, right Oprah?
Morning arrives as you wake up bright and early, ready to get the day started. You make sure to double check everything you need: keys, wallet, bag, business cards. Everything checks out. Your mentality is everything. Optimism and energy coursing through your veins as you go about your routine. Tonight you decide to bring a pen to write on the cards people hand you, as well as the ones you hand them. Then again, that’s if you even exchange cards. As the night draws near, you pack up early and go over your list again, double checking the attendees and what you’ve profiled on them.
The clock strikes and you request an Uber Pull. Curveball, let’s use this time and other person as batting practice for the big leagues. The next 20 odd minutes you spend chatting while getting your mind prepped for the big stage. Then again, it’s only a networking event, but you need to be ON this time. No going through the motions. You have the Google Keep list up on your phone as well as the event description (soon enough iOS will allow the split screen).
You stroll into the building like you own the place, and the crowd freezes, all eyes on you! I’m kidding, it’s like every other networking event. A rather uneventful scene with a dismal crowd, but great finger food to accompany the elevator music. Let’s jump right in. Instead of making for the snacks you go to the first solo person you see and introduce yourself. Most people are just as uncomfortable as you to be there unless they’re already buzzed or have done a similar amount of prep work. You don’t know this guy but you start with a compliment, followed by an introduction and strong handshake. From here on out, this conversation is about him. Really sink your teeth in on finding out who they are, what they do, and why they do it. Most people love to talk about themselves, so listen! As 99% of networking conversations go, the person will eventually ask about you. So if your prep work led to your understanding of this person or their business, then go with that, if not, then relate your business and interests to theirs. I mean, it’s kind of similar to dating, am I right?
Leaving the conversation is the tricky part. Don’t Irish exit. Be personable and sincere. Instead of asking for a business card, ask for their cell phone. Instead of asking them to coffee or lunch, ask them to a walk about a park, or maybe an interesting happy hour. If they ask for your card, then do the whole card swap. Try writing something on your card for them, and something personable about them on their card to you. If you ask my friends, they’ll tell you I add notes to a person after meeting them. This is for two reasons, to sort and search my contacts, but to also have context about the individual for when I want to communicate next. So, finalize your plans, exchange information, then excuse yourself to find someone else you’ve been ‘looking for’.
The rest of the night is similar. It’s like a Beatles Album, you can put that on repeat. Follow those concepts, along with a few more: don’t eat too much. don’t get sloppy, don’t interrupt people, get off your phone (unless for good purpose), and above all, actually listen. Most of these conversations are non-verbal. You’ll notice how disengaged people are during conversation.
As the event comes to an end it’s time to become aware of who is still around and how you should go about leaving. Don’t overthink this, just say your goodbyes, tell people you will call them or follow up the way you promised. I’m sure you’re tired, so grab your Uber (they should give me free rides at this point) and get home.
At this point you’re probably exhausted from talking, but this step is key. Make sure you follow up immediately. Anything past 3 days and you’ve lost them. The next day I strongly suggest a few things: call or text them, follow up with an email, follow them and their business on all social medias (people never do this, but you can), connect on Linkedin, and learn more about them and their business. Over the next few days you will have to keep up with these conversations. This seems trivial and mundane, but this is where you really separate yourself from the crowd. So blow up their social notifications and get in front of them, Make plans and stick with them.
Let me leave you with an example. I’m one of the people who usually knows (or thinks he knows) what to do in business, but like many of you, I don’t always follow through. We all have excuses, but one of my goals for 2017 is to get better at holding myself accountable in business operations, networking being one of them. Anyways, I attended Founder Factory last week in Center City and met dozens of people, one of which was David Feinman with Viral Ideas Marketing. We randomly started chatting at lunch and actually covered a lot of these key points to successful marketing. We’ve been messaging on Facebook, texting, and scheduling things ever since. As a millennial it should be easier for us to innovate with networking. So just do it.
Stay ahead of the crowd and stand out. That’s it.
- Conduct basic research!
- How do you prepare for a networking event (if at all)? Good point, right? Well, most people don’t. We just don’t have the time (I hate that excuse). Nobody has time and everyone is busy. I get that. However, at least in my industry (and most professional services), what percent of clients do you think you’ve gained from networking, word of mouth, referrals and relationships. For me it’s 100%. So, why not invest time in the one key aspect of outbound sales that’s actually generating leads and revenue?
- Get out of your comfort zone!
- Some people really struggle with this, and that’s okay. It’s not easy to go spark a conversation with someone new. However, just understand that they probably feel the same way, and they’re probably at the event for the same reasons you are. I don’t want to say to ‘fake it’, but put a smile on and get out there. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Jump right in and make some friends. It’s like the first day of summer camp. Stop hating mom and dad and go get your hands dirty.
- Get out of your comfort zone!
- Stay top of mind!
- This is where it might differ from the dating scene. It’s not like the whole “you need to wait 3 days” thing or whatever. You want this person to know you’re interested and that you care. Plus, you met a lot of people and your memory isn’t perfect. Within the next 24 hours I would follow up with a personal text or call, as well as an email. Finalize some fun plans to meet up. Stick out from the crowd. Follow them on all social media and connect with them on Linkedin. They will reciprocate and now your content will stay top of mind with them. Make a REAL connection.
- Stay top of mind!
- Conduct basic research!
I know people don’t read anymore so I made a video blog that way you can choose to watch and/or read.
Let’s hope you took something from this. Maybe it’s common sense, maybe not. Regardless, if I get one more business card to sit in my drawer collecting dust then I might just use it as kindling. I’m kidding We Work.
Get out there and be a better you. Grow your business.