Today I continue my series for Improve Management Skills Month with a look at social networking, both online and offline. Mastering the art of networking will help you to build your brand, expand your reach, grow your business, and be a more confident individual. To determine whether you are networking effectively, ask yourself the following questions.
1. Do you hand out business cards without even introducing yourself?
Networking is not about one-way advertising; it’s about building and growing relationships. Don’t worry that there isn’t time at a networking event to talk to every other person in attendance – networking is about quality, not quantity.
If there’s someone there that you really want to meet, but they are engaged in conversation with someone else, patiently wait for your opportunity to talk to them. Don’t just hand them your business card and hope they’ll be so enthralled with it that they’ll look you up. People form relationships with other people, not with business cards.
A better way to make connections is to initiate a conversation and ask for the other person’s card. If they want yours, they will ask for it. It might also be appropriate to ask them to email you some additional information about something you discussed, in which case it is perfectly acceptable to give them your business card.
The online equivalent of this faux pas is to send out Friend Requests on Facebook, or invitations to connect on LinkedIn, without including a personalized note introducing yourself and explaining why you’d like to connect with that person. If you know the person already, it’s probably acceptable (kind of like saying, “Mary, can I have your business card?”), but it’s always a nice touch, especially if they may not remember immediately where you’ve met.
Twitter is a little different, because you can follow most people without their permission, but if you’re following someone with the hope that they’ll notice and follow you back, you need to try a little harder. Show your admiration and interest by retweeting some of their posts, and engage in conversation by responding to others.
2. Do you monopolize the conversation?
When you meet someone for the first time, do you talk only about your business, or do you ask about theirs? Even if they offer a product or service you don’t need yourself, it might be useful to someone else you know, and you can do both people a favor by making the connection.
Of course you want to let people know what you offer – that’s one of the goals of networking – but avoid sharing too much information. Watch for visual cues that the other person is getting bored or wanting to get away to talk to others.
In online networking, make sure that your status updates and posts aren’t restricted to announcements about your new blog posts, upcoming events, or other forms of advertising. It’s important to engage with others if you really want to build strong connections.
3. Do you add people to your mailing list without their permission?
It just amazes me how many people think that it’s okay to start sending you their newsletter and/or promotional emails, just because you gave them your business card. I was recently at a networking breakfast where during the group discussion, someone mentioned how much this practice annoys them, and I agreed. Despite that, the person sitting next to me added me to her weekly mailing list, and I suspect that she added everyone else that she met too.
Of course, you want to increase your subscriber base, but that is not the way to go about it. I recommend that you take one of the following approaches:
- When the person gives you their card, say, “I have a weekly/monthly/occasional newsletter that I send that includes tips about organizing/special offers/information about my upcoming organizing workshops – may I add you to my mailing list?”
- When you get back to your office, email each person you met individually, tell them how much you enjoyed meeting them, and refer to something you discussed. Tell them about your newsletter and invite them to subscribe. Include a copy of a back issue to help them decide whether it’s something that would be of value to them.
When you add people without permission, even if they have the option of unsubscribing easily, you not only risk annoying them, but you put them in the awkward position of not wanting to offend someone they have just met. Is that really how you want to start off a new relationship? Sure, it takes a little more effort to email people personally, but it’s also a lot more effective. Remember: networking is about quality, not quantity.
This is less of an issue online, but I have occasionally had people start sending me their newsletters and e-flyers simply because we’d interacted through an online network, and not because I’d signed up for a free e-book or teleclass.
I could go on, but will save a discussion of opt-in, double opt-in, and opt-out systems for another post.
4. Do you forget to follow up with the people you meet?
Clearly, by following up, I don’t mean sending them your newsletter. I mean sending them a personal email, or perhaps a card in the mail, to reinforce the connection that you made. This is especially important if you offered to send them information about something.
It’s not about sending them your sales pitch, unless they specifically asked you to do that. If you really want to be remembered, why not send them an article about one of their areas of interest, to show that you were listening?
Online, once you’ve connected with people, make an effort to stay in touch. I realize that your time is valuable and I don’t expect you to send personal messages to everyone all the time. But if someone sends you a message on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or another site, take the time to respond. And be sure to acknowledge when someone receives an award or celebrates a birthday or anniversary.
The main thing to remember here is that networking isn’t about going out and getting clients. It’s not even about getting referrals. It’s about knowing the people in your network well enough that when someone asks you, “Do you know anyone who ….. ?” you’ll be able to connect them to someone. That will make people notice you, remember you, and appreciate you, and will ultimately (but not immediately) bring you new business.
One person I know who is a Master at networking is Michael Fletcher of Neworld Coaching. He goes out of his way to get to know every person in his very large network – what they do, what challenges they face, and what type of clients they’re looking for – without ever pushing his services, and it’s this very approach that has made his business such a success.
Recognizing that not everyone can afford business coaching, Michael has developed a 13-week online course called Small Business Group Coaching 101 where you’ll learn lots of important strategies to help you grow your business. This program includes weekly webinars, workbooks and other materials, and a one-on-one coaching session with Michael. If you sign up, please mention my name in the “Tell us about your company” area of the registration form.