For many people, the idea of going to a conference, meeting, or business social engagement is scary – or at least incredibly intimidating. But if you are launching or growing a new business, successful networking adventures can lead to meaningful business collaborations, engage new customers or clients, and help you find great new talent for your company.
But before you start networking, dump the term “networking.” Networking has long had the reputation of being a necessary evil – something you do when you are desperate for sales leads and new jobs. But real, successful networking that yields long-term results through lasting relationships is simply about making personal connections. The most important objective in networking is connecting with people – learning about them, discovering shared interests, complementary skills, or similar needs. So rather than talking about “networking,” let’s call it “connecting.”
Connecting with people in an authentic way will lead to lasting relationships that will move your business forward. There are several things to consider when making new connections with people.
First, start making connections before you need them. In other words, don’t bring a stack of job postings if you are seeking help or resumes if you are on the job hunt.
Second, be your authentic self. Embrace your personal brand and open yourself up when connecting with new people. Wear what you are comfortable in (make sure its a professional version of comfortable) and bring business cards that accurately reflect your business and your position.
Third, listen to the other people. When connecting with new people, we can sometimes talk a little too much about ourselves and the work we want to do or are doing. It can be a challenge when we are excited and nervous to stop talking and listen to the other people in the room. Connecting with people before you need them, allows you to relax and take time to get to know each person you meet. Listening to them will lead to your understanding if they are a good fit for you to develop a more robust relationship with in the future. Could they be a future employee, a future employer, or a future industry mentor?
There are several different types of networking opportunities for connection-making, but here are our top four favorites:
1 – Service Organizations
Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, Lions Club, and other service organizations provide great opportunities for business people, retired business people, and community leaders to meet regularly and work together on issues that matter to their communities. These are great places to make connections – particularly with seasoned professionals that have been active in the community for many years. Membership in these organizations typically requires a dues payment or an expected donation, however, you can usually attend meetings as a guest to check it out. Here in Salt Lake City, there are numerous service organizations serving our community. Take time to visit meetings of several organizations before committing – you may find that one Rotary Club is full of people from your industry, while another may be full of people that have nothing to do with your industry. Attend the meetings as a guest and make some initial connections to figure out which club is best for you and your business long-term.
2 – Business Support Organizations
Chambers of Commerce, Business Associations, Downtown Alliances, and organizations like economic development councils exist to help businesses succeed. Membership in these organizations typically requires a fee; however, the organizations actively try to help your business be successful, so they provide many services and opportunities for professional development, connection-making, and support resources. These types of organizations often hold events like “Leads and Needs” or “Business After Hours” or mini seminars held over the lunch hour. They may also focus on specific industry areas, providing niche connection-making opportunities for your particular business. They may also focus on supporting a particular demographic, such as Salt Lake City’s chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. Becoming a member of a business support organization is a great entry point to many opportunities for connection-making in an authentic, meaningful way.
3 – Nonprofit Events
As a business leader, showing support for your community’s nonprofit organizations is important. Most nonprofits, no matter what their mission, have an annual fundraising event of some kind. Attending these events allows you to make connections with people that care about similar causes in your community. While these connections may not be with people directly in your industry, you never know what opportunities will be unlocked by a connection you make over a cause you support. Bonus – businesses get great PR when they are seen sponsoring a nonprofit’s event!
4 – Conferences
Industry conferences are important to making connections with your peers and competition. If you’ve never attended a conference, they can be exciting, overwhelming, and exhausting – you’ll want to read our guide to successfully surviving your first conference. Remember to pack your business cards!
At the end of your connection-making meeting/event/encounter, you should always do a quick follow-upto anyone you specifically connected with on a more meaningful level. Send a quick email – “Hey, it was nice to meet you, hope to run into you again!” or “I really enjoyed our conversation about “XYZ,” maybe we could grab a coffee or lunch and talk some more soon?” Keep it authentic. Don’t push an agenda. Create lasting relationships through your connections and move your business forward.