Building a solid business network can be the key to success in almost any business and if you are self employed your contacts and relationships are your lifeline... BUT how do you really build those relationships? Especially if you have a short time to get to know someone.
Have you ever gone to a networking event, mixer, luncheon or fund-raiser and felt uncomfortable introducing yourself? Maybe you can easily introduce yourself but you're unsure of what to say next or how to continue the conversation. If so, you’re not alone.
Think about the reason you are attending the event. Is it to promote your business? To make some new contacts? To learn something business-relevant? All of the above? I believe it should be, whenever possible, all of the above!
So, how do we do all of that without being THAT person? Who is THAT person? The one who only talks and doesn’t listen or is looking everywhere except at you. The one who tries to “sell” you immediately. The one who thinks if they explain every detail of their business, you’ll need it, like it or want it.
I firmly believe that most people are not doing this on purpose. Maybe they're unsure of themselves, they’re probably nervous and they’ve obviously not be coached.
I'd like you to consider a mindset switch. Let's think not just about meeting new people but really CONNECTING. This is a process. Connecting is pro-active, action-oriented, intentional and a choice. The best news is that most of us already know how to do this!
Successful CONNECTORS are authentic, confident but not arrogant, enthusiastic, glad to be there, good listeners, others-focused and engaging. Connecting in business is NOT very much different than the way you socialize! Think of how you act in a social setting; at a child's birthday party, a school function, a wedding, a baby shower, a party with friends.
I believe anyone can be successful at connecting and contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be an extrovert to effectively connect. While some of us are outgoing people, some are quiet but good listeners. Some may need to develop the "skill" but connecting CAN be learned and we are by nature, relational so it's in our genes.
Above all, successful connectors are helpful. Make sure you have something to offer those you want to connect with, even if it's in directly! Offer to really help even if you don't have a need for their product or service and be creative. Always have “tools” in your toolbox - invite them to something where they can meet more people. Be genuine. Be intentional. This takes energy and requires patience.
So, what do you say or do? First and foremost, smile! Ask authentic questions. Try to find a connection point: kids, pets, interests (sports, travel, cooking, healthy lifestyles), geography (where are you from originally? Compliment them but please, be genuine.
My business introduction usually starts with my story, which is BOTH personal and professional. I also show some vulnerability to help others see that I'm real. I want to help a new connection feel comfortable talking to me with no pressure.
In Closing... If you know what you want to achieve in networking and have realistic expectations, consider quality over quantity, are intentional but not canned and are genuine and not in "sales" mode; you'll make some new connections, maybe make a new professional-friend or two and you'll have fun!