The single most important component of being successful in business is networking . Networking is about making professional connections and building enduring, mutually beneficial relationships. Many people agree that landing a client or customer is about whom you know in your target industry.
If you are in the creative industry, it is important to network inside and outside your industry. For example, I attended an event of freelance writers, photographers, and graphic designers. I made a connection with a magazine and was eventually hired as a freelancer. While attending a general meeting of business professionals, I found a new client in the real estate industry and was hired to write copy for their new website. Networking helps you to acquire not just contacts but also professional support, ideas, and helpful advice.
I’m a freelance artist and a writer. Oh, and I’m an introvert. I’d rather be in my studio than at a cocktail party. However, gathering business contacts and referrals is essential for me to land jobs. I’ve always envied those people who can walk into a crowded room of and start up a conversation with strangers. I find myself inching around quietly, clutching my business cards and desperately trying to spy anyone I might know. Networking is not a natural skill for me; rather, I’ve learned how to do it in a way that makes me comfortable.
This year I was introduced to a networking company in Rhode Island called Service by Referral (SBR) and was hired as a Community Coordinator. I was in charge of running networking meetings, recruiting members, and coordinating events. On my first day I attended open networking mixer at a local bank alone. Feeling like I’d been thrown in the deep end of the pool, I held my breath and walked in with as much confidence as I could. Since that night, I’ve developed a few strategies and tips that now make meeting new people and networking easier and more productive.
CLOTHES: Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. You will primarily be standing and you don’t want to be distracted with uncomfortable pants or a blister on your heel. Check your hair, makeup and teeth in the car mirror before entering.
STYLE: Wear something memorable but tasteful. You want to stand out in the sea of dark dresses, blue suits, white shirts and red ties. Try a unique tie or colored dress shirt. Maybe wear a vintage dress or colorful jewelry. I usually wear a brightly colored dress or top (cobalt, red, or orange) and a statement necklace or bracelet. Your unique style is an easy conversation starter for other people: “Hi! I love your necklace. Where did you get it?” You also create a visual memory for the people you meet: “You need a writer? Remember the woman in the red dress? I have her card right here.”
SMILE: No one wants to approach a grumpy face: be approachable. It is easier to be welcomed into a circle of networkers if you wear a smile—one of your most important accessories!
INTRODUCTION: People will ask, “What do you do?” Have a concise, scripted answer in your head that begs them to ask more. Elizabeth Phinney, from Fitness After Forty-Five, has a great intro: “I help you plan for your physical future.” Don’t you want to know more? If you need help developing your 30-second presentation, Rich Austin of Speaking of Success coaches clients on what and how to introduce themselves. Practice, practice, practice, so it becomes automatic.
BUSINESS CARDS: Have your business cards at the ready. I carry mine on a wristlet so my hands are free. Gentlemen, put a stack of them in an easy-to-reach pocket. You don’t want to have to fumble for them in a full handbag or stuffed wallet. When in a group, I like to say, “Hey, I love exchanging business cards,” as I hold one out to them. This technique has worked for me 100%. Ask them what they do and they will certainly reciprocate.
NAME TAG: I typically wear my own nametag instead of using the provided stick-on brand. This is another way for people to start a conversation with you: “Nice nametag. Now, what do you do?” Create one with visual impact. Just like your clothing style, this will give them another way to remember.
REFERRALS: Offer the people you meet referrals and they may do so in return. If you can’t think of one off hand, promise to get back to them and follow through. I carry a pen with me to make notes on cards for reference. The more meaningful contacts you make, the more possible customers you create.
To succeed, continually connect with new people, cultivate emerging relationships and leverage your network. Join a professional group, such a SBR, to expand your circle. Sign up for networking newsletters or join your chamber of commerce. With preparation and practice, you will be on your way to networking success in no time.
by Tracie Seed
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