Networking. (cue groaning)
Ah, not too many words inspire such dread in a business owner. Images of fake smiles, business cards being shoved in your face and rubbery chicken lunches abound.
Yet in today’s New Economy, where so many folks are building dream businesses and personal brands, networking is a vital part of our marketing plan -and our brand. Whether face to face or screen to screen, it provides a host of benefits – and can even be, dare I say, fun?
Meet networking diva and consultant Sandy Jones-Kaminski. She’s the author of I’m at a Networking Event—Now What???, the #1 pick on the Inc.com 2010 Business Book Wish List. As the principal consultant of Bella Domain Media, she shares practical advice and professional insights about LinkedIn, personal branding and effective networking via webinars, keynotes, workshops, and by facilitating in-person networking events called Pay It Forward Parties.
I adore her and her book’s a treat: very practical, actionable and even entertaining. I first met Sandy – wait for it – in the elevator on the way to a Seattle networking event. While the event itself left something to be desired, meeting Sandy drove home an important lesson: you can find great lasting connections in the most unexpected places if you are open to it.
Today, she dishes on some top networking tips, how to use social media for networking – and where to wear your nametag.
RS; Hi Sandy! Thrilled you’re here. What does “networking” really mean? Do we have to network with people we don’t like, just because of who they are or can we stick to folks with whom we make genuine connections?
SJK: Well, the definition of the word “network,” according to The Oxford Dictionary, is a group of people who exchange information, contacts, and experience for professional or social purposes. So, networking can be defined as the efforts to create this group and each of us can choose the people we want in our group or network. The only people worth having in your network are those with whom you would be happy to exchange ideas, resources, contacts or knowledge.
RS: What are 5 tips you have for getting the most out of a networking event, including any etiquette tips you have?
- Don’t take networking too seriously. It can and should be fun. Relax, take the pressure off yourself and focus on what you can offer others.
- Take a proactive approach and get off the couch or out from behind your screen and get out there. You eventually have to meet people to know if you’ll really connect with them, and the more people you meet, the more likely you are to find the “right” people for you. (It’s almost like dating, isn’t it?)
- Improve your outlook and your fortune will change. If you have a negative outlook on networking, you’re probably sabotaging your chances at truly connecting with others. Try approaching networking as an act of service within your community rather than simply expecting to find the elusive new client or opportunity.
- Keep the alcohol consumption to a minimum if you’re at an event where it’s being served. Being relaxed is good, but having your buzz on and then acting inappropriately is not a good way to be memorable.
- Be polite and considerate because good manners never go out of style or go unnoticed. And remember, nobody likes a one-upper. A networking event is a time to be non-competitive and social in a professional yet friendly way.
- Bonus tip: The right side is the RIGHT side to wear your nametag!
RS: How can we use social media more effectively to network in the virtual sense?
SJK: My favorite use of social media is mostly as a follow-up tool. I use social networking tools like LinkedIn to send those “It was so great to meet you and I hope we can stay connected,” messages after meeting someone at an event or presentation I’ve given. And, I also use it as a way to identify people I’d like to potentially add to my network. I find people on Twitter or via their LinkedIn or Facebook company pages to get a sense of them or their biz before making a point to meet them in person at an upcoming conference or live event.
Net-net: To build community, attract new clients and grow your business, you need to include networking in your marketing plans. And you can engage in both online and offline networking to get to success.