The art of “networking” has drastically evolved over the years. The progression of social media has made it easier than ever to grow our networks rapidly and with relative ease. Gone are the days where costly, in-person networking events are the only means you have to find prospects and build relationships with potential strategic alliances. Whether you find yourself contemplating an in-person networking event or with a few extra minutes to spare while browsing LinkedIn, there are a handful of tips that are sure to make whatever form of networking you choose, more efficient. 

Tip #1: Do Your Research

Before clicking the “purchase” button on that Eventbrite ticket or RSVPing “yes” to that Facebook invite, do a little digging to get a better idea if this event will truly be worth it. Think about all that time and energy you will spend searching for parking and painfully ducking your way out of a conversation that has drawn on a little too long

If possible, find out who might be in attendance. Even take a glance at the guest list if one is public.  Will your ideal customer be there? Is that person you’ve been itching to connect with going? Even taking 20 minutes investigating the level of value an event may or may not bring, will help you make a clear and educated decision.

Tip #2: Create a Game Plan

You did your research and you discovered that this event will definitely be worthwhile. The next, and probably most important thing to do is to create a plan for two things: who you want to connect with and follow-up. If you’re like most business owners, you’ll either wind up with a stack of business cards lining the bottom of your purse or stuck in a conversation with someone for 30 minutes, keeping you from meeting with that website developer you’ve been itching to have a conversation with. 

Photo by @kellybrito

Having a plan makes in-person networking a much better use of your time. Gracefully moving a conversation can be as easy as preparing a phrase like, “I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you, I’d love to have a business card so we can stay connected.” Super easy, right? 

Set aside 30 minutes after the event to quickly connect with the people you met that evening on LinkedIn or by sending them a quick email to schedule time in the future to have a phone call or in-person meeting. With tools like Rapportive, you can do things like this even faster, so no excuses.  Doing this keeps your prospect top of mind and you’re less likely to forget and discover the card at the bottom while looking for scrap paper to dispose that piece of gum in your mouth in the DMV line. 

Tip #3 Make Providing Value A Priority

I swear you can smell it from a mile away when a person a person is only interested in selling or promoting their products or services.  Relationships are created through mutual trust and authentic connection. Just like you wouldn’t find it appropriate to walk into a dinner party and shout, “Hey, I’m here! Look at me.” This is not how you want to ever lead a conversation with someone you’re meeting for the first time.  Take the time to listen first, provide value second and then, if it seems appropriate, make your ask or share your work. 

Taking a servant like approach to social media and focusing on truly giving quality value and solutions is powerful. Providing value is also a great way to softly stay in front of your network.

This can be done relatively easily using tagging on social media. Loop individuals you admire or perhaps want to build a strong relationship with from your network into conversations and ask for their feedback. This creates trust and mutual respect.

Tip #4 Celebrate Others

This goes along nicely with providing value and can be another means of softly staying in front of the individuals that make up your growing network. You can use Google alerts to stay in-the-loop on people or companies that you care about. If they achieve something, a simple celebratory post or kudos reminds them that you support them and further builds a relationship of trust.

Tip #5 Protect Your Time

Time is one of the most valuable assets that we have. So you’ve followed-up with a quality prospect who slid into your DMs on Instagram or messaged you on LinkedIn. Now is the time to coordinate a conversation. Suggesting a phone call for a first meeting can save you ample amounts of both time and money. If the call goes well, and you need to meet again, the second meeting could be coffee or lunch. It also makes less of an impact on your schedule if someone bails at the last minute.

Consider using scheduling platforms like Acuity Scheduling that makes scheduling appointments easier. Save yourself the back and forth of figuring out schedules and utilize this tool or something similar. If you’re ready, you may even want to think about hiring a personal assistant.

Photo by @aleskrivec

Networking will always be a part of running your own business, but it doesn’t have to be such a painful process. Use these five tips to make the most of whatever means of networking you choose to get involved with. Get intentional about what in-person events you’re going to and how you can provide more value both in-person and online.

How do you go about building your strategic network?