While business networking events can sometimes feel awkward to artisans, you don’t have to jump on the hard-sell bandwagon to make networking work for you. In fact, you will reap greater benefits – and bring a breath of fresh air to those you interact with -- by being a “genuine networker,” that is, someone more interested in building connections and relationships than racking up a stack of business cards.
“Genuine networking is very different than a sales pitch or exchanging cards,” says Rachel Permuth-Levine, a senior wellness consultant with NH-based Bella Business Solutions, LLC, who gives seminars on the art of professional networking. “Networking is about sincerity.”
“At its very core, networking is about building strong relationships,” agrees
Marvin "Coach" Powell, CEO of Va.-based Coach Powell Training and Development (http://ninetydaypowerplay.com/). “…and then leveraging those relationships to accomplish great things for yourself and others.”
Here’s how to be more genuine and sincere in your approach to business events:
Listen more than you talk
While the customary advice for attending networking events is to endlessly prepare your “elevator speech” about your business until it sounds natural, genuine networking is more about listening. Focusing on the other person will help ease any social jitters you have, and has the added benefit of helping you get to know the other person. Deborah S. Novick of NY-based Silver Lining Ltd., small business consulting company (http://www.silverlininglimited.com/), says one trick to use if you are feeling awkward at an event is to pretend you are the host of the party and your job is to make others feel comfortable. “Walk up to someone who looks lost and start a conversation with them. Find something of common interest to discuss,” she says.
Approach people who aren’t just like you
It may be comforting – and even natural – to migrate to other artisans or people you may know at an event or group. But go outside your comfort zone and talk to people who you think you may not have anything in common with. “Artisans should network, up, down and sideways…and don’t always assume the only people who can help you are above you,” says Permuth-Levine. “Take a genuine interest in everyone and they will take a genuine interest in you.”
Even businesses that you may think are “dry” or even “boring” have interesting challenges. Keep an open and curious mind; ask questions about a person’s business even if you don’t understand what they do. “Have some open-ended questions you can ask them to start and continue a conversation,” says Diane Helbig, a business coach and owner of Ohio-based Seize This Day Coaching (http://www.seizethisdaycoaching.com/ ). “Remember, it's about them, not you. Be sincere and be present. Pay attention during the conversation.” Good conversation icebreakers include: what they find interesting about their line of work, why they chose their field, and what they do for fun when they are off duty. You’ll find that many people come alive when asked about their hobbies or pastimes.
Offer help, ask for help
Part of listening to what the other person is saying is to hear what they need. Are they new to the area and looking for plumber, and you have a great plumber you’ve used for years? Or is the person an entrepreneur and looking for an expert in web design – and your best friend is a skilled web designer? Speak up and offer to make the introduction. “Be a giver,” says Helbig. “If you can help someone solve a problem, do it. If you can connect them to a resource, do it. Especially when it has nothing to do with what you sell.” Your goal is to be helpful. And people don’t forget others who help them and may be willing to help you when you need it.
Don’t expect too much
Not everyone you encounter will be on your “genuine networking” wavelength. If you sense that the person doesn’t see you as “worthwhile” to network with, and is looking over your shoulder for a worthier contact, don’t force it. Say that you need to refresh your drink, or get a snack, and move on.
Get contact information & stay in touch
Never push your business card on anyone. Wait until they ask you for your card; but feel free to ask them for their card. But don’t ask for a business card if you have no intention on keeping in touch. You can suggest how you are thinking of keeping in touch by saying, “Can we stay in touch on Facebook or LinkedIn,” or “Do you want to have coffee or lunch sometime?”
Take notes & follow through
Don’t make the mistake of shoving the business card in your pocket, then unearthing it weeks later and not remember a thing about the conversation. When you get a business card, write down notes about your conversation after the event. This will help jog your memory when you follow up later. “Whenever you meet someone at an event, this is just the start of what will hopefully be a long lasting relationship,” says Michael Goldberg, a networking expert and founder of NJ-based Building Blocks Consulting (http://www.buildingblocksconsulting.com/). This is where handwritten “nice to meet you” cards, invitations to LinkedIn, and future meetings come in. “If you made a promise to connect someone to someone else, send an article, or provide further information, make sure you live up to your word over the next 24 to 48 hours,” he says.
Lastly, get out and network!
To reap the benefits of making new connections you need to get out and start networking, says Marcia Finberg, a marketing and business development consultant with Ariz.-based Your Phoenix Office. Before you put yourself “out there” you need to make sure you have the structure in place to follow up and connect after the event. “Yes, you need LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and other social media…and a website,” says Finberg. “If you are an artisan these tools are mostly supporting players that legitimize you in your potential customers’ eyes.” Finberg believes that there are no “phony” networking events – just some that are more productive than others. But you’ll never know unless you go to the event.
“Networking at any event is about farming not hunting,” sums up Goldberg. “The big payoff from networking doesn’t happen overnight. It does take time and work. Remember, it’s net-work!”
Article Author: Marcia Passos Duffy
MARCIA PASSOS DUFFY (http://www.backporchpublishing.com/) is a freelance business writer based in New Hampshire and is a member of the state’s artisan and business organization, NH Made. Marcia’s articles have appeared on Yahoo Finance, CNBC, Bankrate.com, NFIB.com, Smart Business Magazine, The New York Times Lifewire, The Weather Channel, among others; she is the author of the book, Be Your Own Boss. She is also the publisher and editor Home Office Weekly (http://www.homeofficeweekly.com/). Marcia wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie May.com (http://www.debbiemay.com/), an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.