How to be successful at business networking

Whether you know me a little or a lot, you’ll know I love networking! Networking has helped me build my career and support other people’s career goals for over 30 years. Today, I want to talk about the benefits of networking and how to feel good about networking, instead of uncomfortable.

What is business networking?

Business networking is building mutually beneficial relationships with people so you can help each other achieve goals. It’s about getting to know people professionally, staying in touch and helping them when you can.

Here are a few common benefits of networking:

  • Experiencing the satisfaction that comes with helping others.
  • Giving someone else the opportunity to experience the satisfaction of helping others.
  • Building real relationships.
  • Creating a network to help you achieve your goals.
  • Meeting people who are typically inaccessible.
  • Getting access to the hidden job market.
  • Staying up to date on industry trends.
  • Building your business through referrals and leads.

You already know the benefits. So, let’s move into how adjusting your perception of networking can help you.

Why people are resistant to networking

Many people are resistant to networking because they believe it’s sleazy, scary or fake. Some people find networking uncomfortable because they believe they’ll be judged as not good enough, not smart enough, uninteresting, unaccomplished etc.

These are all unnecessary, self-limiting beliefs that simply aren’t true when you network the right way.

Get over networking resistance by changing your outlook

Instead of staying stuck in networking misconceptions, I encourage you to flip your impression of this essential business activity to something positive and simple.

Networking is about helping other people and keeping the faith that this approach benefits you in the long run.

Helping people and letting other people help you isn’t sleazy. It’s human. Successful, satisfied people are driven to help others and there’s nothing wrong with that.

My advice for folks on networking is give, give, give. You will later receive. But you are really planting these seeds. Some of them will die, and they won’t become anything. Many of them will take many, many years before they pay off for you if at all.

  • Sallie Krawcheck

Now, even after you adjust your mindset about networking, you may not know how to network effectively. That’s okay because I’ve got some tips for you.

How to have an engaging networking conversation

Always go into a networking conversation with an open mind because you never know what can happen. And, even if nothing happens, that’s okay too. An easy way to remember this open-minded approach is ABC: Always Be Curious. When you seek to learn about others, you’ll make a good impression and probably feel more relaxed.

Here are some questions you can use to always be curious and start real conversations:

  • “What brought you here?”
  • “What are you hoping to get from the event tonight?”
  • “When you say <something they said>, what exactly do you mean?”

How to be successful at business networking and present yourself well

It’s important to check yourself so you show up the way you intend to at a networking event. If you’ve had a bad day, do some positive self-talk to shake off the day and get into the right frame of mind.

The “definitely do this” list for networking:

  • Bring your business cards.
  • Help put other people at ease because you’re probably not the only one feeling uncomfortable.
  • Break into a group conversation graciously. Catch someone’s eye, smile and say, “Would you ladies mind if I join you?”
  • Break out of a conversation graciously. You can say, “It was a pleasure meeting you, Veronica. I’m going to circulate now but I hope to see you at another event soon.”
  • Smile! Showing someone else you’re glad to be there is a great way to create a positive presence.
  • Respect people’s boundaries and be aware of the limits of your relationship when asking someone for help.
  • Keep in touch with meaningful follow-ups.  

The “don’t do” list for networking:

  • Don’t be or seem desperate – This puts people off so avoid it. By being curious at events, you can avoid seeming desperate.
  • Don’t be a fair-weather networker – Stay in touch regularly, not just when you need help from people.
  • Don’t be transactional – Networking doesn’t work like a balance sheet. Focus on building relationships instead of calculating debits and credits.
  • Don’t get ahead of the conversation – Instead of focusing on what you’ll say next, give the other person your full attention and go with the flow of the conversation.
  • Don’t isolate yourself – If you’re at a networking event, talk to people instead of staying alone in the corner of the room.
  • Don’t ask for too much too soon – Seasoned networkers will often ask you if there’s any way they can help you. If you’re asked, go ahead and say what you need. If you’re not asked this question, you can take a softer approach in a follow-up note. For example, “Hi Jane, thank you so much for meeting with me. I really enjoyed our conversation and got a good sense of what you do. [Etc.] If you think of anyone in your network that I’d be a good fit for, I’d love to be connected.”

After a networking session: The importance of follow-up for relationship building

After you meet someone at a networking event or coffee date, say thanks! Send a quick note or email and let that person know how much you appreciated your conversation and why. After that, add a note in your calendar to follow up. (You can also create a quick Excel document to help you keep track of your networking efforts.) You can follow up in a month or several, depending on what feels right or even the conversation details.

Here’s a sample next day follow-up:

  • “Hi Franny, thanks so much for meeting with me. I really enjoyed our conversation and learning about how you became a cybersecurity specialist. I’d love to connect sometime for coffee so let me know if you’re interested. If you are, here are a few dates that work for me…”

Here are some sample follow-ups you could send a few months later:

  • “Hi Elise, hope the last few months have been great for you. I know we said we’d try to reconnect for a coffee, but we’ve been so busy. I’d love to catch up. How does your schedule look in the next two weeks?”
  • “Hi Tami, just thinking about you the other day. I see you posting on LinkedIn regularly. I just want to check in and see how you’re doing.”

Fieldwork: Put these networking tips to use!

Networking is a habit and the best way to create a habit is by practicing the activity you want to repeat. I challenge you to get started with two small networking activities this week.

  1. Write one follow-up note, even if it’s been ages since you connected with that person.
  2. Practice smiling at strangers to expand your comfort zone and put you in a positive frame of mind.

By practicing these tips, you’ll become comfortable with networking while meeting new people and helping your network reach their goals. Now you know why I love networking!

Hi, I’m Vicki Bradley, an executive coach in Toronto and the Founder and CEO of Women in Leadership Empowered.

I work with women pursuing success in executive leadership roles and the presidents and CEOs who understand that strong businesses are built with strong, diverse leadership.

WIL Empowered is a year-long program where we use all four aspects of leadership development: Coaching, Networking, Peer to peer mentorship and skills development. Our mission is to help women develop the skills, motivation and accountability required to succeed in their business and personal lives.

Take our five-minute leadership quiz to discover where your leadership skills are now and where you’d like them to be this time next year.

To discover more about the WIL Empowered program, visit the website.

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