Networking is an important part of raising awareness for your business, finding partnerships, and winning over potential customers. For some entrepreneurs, networking comes naturally. For others, it’s about as appealing as a trip to the dentist.
If you’re not assertive about meeting people, you miss out on business opportunities. Alternatively, if you’re too aggressive, you’re annoying instead of appealing. These five networking tips from successful entrepreneurs and business leaders will help you build relationships without creating baggage.
1. Pace Yourself
Michele Lawson, entrepreneur and author of Unleash Your Networking Mojo says connections formed correctly in the beginning will last a long time. Your first meeting shouldn’t be solely about you and your product—unless your newfound acquaintance steers the conversation exclusively in that direction.
When you’re networking, you’re not just seeking new customers for your product; you’re seeking new business partners, future employees, and valuable advisors. If you make it all about selling, you’ll miss out on valuable relationships and tips for business development. Work on establishing trust first before you go for the sale.
2. Give Something of Value
Neil Fogarty, serial entrepreneur and founder of Spark Global Business, says people contact him regularly to ask to meet his friend Richard Branson. “No hello; no explanation as to why, just introduce me to Richard Branson,” Fogarty wrote in a blog post. He asks a rhetorical question: “Am I likely to help?”
Fogarty says it’s crucial to offer something first before asking a networking contact for a favor. Don’t just offer something random; take the time to get to know the person so what you offer is truly useful.
Also, it’s also important to make the value of your gift equal to the favor you want in return. If you’re asking for something significant, offer multiple small favors before going in for the big ask. Then, when you do ask for something significant from someone else, you’ve created sufficient goodwill to persuade them to say “yes.”
3. Take Notes
Chad Dickerson, CEO of Etsy, doesn’t just add new networking contacts to his Rolodex. He writes down notes about the person and what they talked about when they last met. If he needs to talk to the person, or if the person calls to talk to him, he refers to his notes before picking up the phone.
It’s easy to forget names, faces, and facts when you’re networking with a lot of people. By taking notes, you ensure that you’re courteous, and you remember why you’ve struck up a relationship with the person. Instead of scrambling to remember who someone is when they call, you can recall the conversation as though it just happened. In turn, when you’re not sure who to call for a specific purpose, reviewing your notes will help you tap the right person.
4. Follow Up
Networking events often have a strong energy, causing people to get wrapped up in the moment. When they return home, the energy fades, and people get sidetracked instead of staying connected.
Lawson emphasizes the importance of staying in touch, even after the event has ended. Send a quick email or note letting people know you enjoyed meeting them. Include something personal in your note (see Tip No. 3) about the conversation, and if you have something useful to offer without expecting anything in return (see Tip No. 2) communicate how you can be useful.