Back to the basics – Networking 101

As in any art, it is good to get back to the basics. The art of networking is no different. Every now and then it is good to take a look at how well we are networking in our businesses and personal lives. Day to day we need to make valuable connections that help others and ourselves.

Often times I have been complimented or endorsed as a consummate networker. The truth is I have very basic rules of engagement. As a business development expert my job is to create demand for my organizations products and services and drive revenue while building vendor and Community relationships and branding.

Take some time before an event to learn about the mission of the event or organization and who may be attending. Be prepared to share appropriate dialogue.

Allow me to share a few of my basics that have enabled ongoing connections.

  • Keep your business cards in the opposite pocket of the hand you shake with and put cards you receive in the pocket of the same side of the hand you shake with. This way you will not give out someone else’s card and be orderly about the exchange. Little things matter in the first impression. Always be generous in distribution of your cards. You never know how passing out your card may build your career. Have plenty on you for an event. Don’t be the one who “ran out of cards” or forgot them.
  • When you go to an event be sure to speak with people. Don’t hide at the sidelines. Take a risk. Get out of your comfort zone. Ask engaging questions. More importantly listen carefully to your fellows’ interests and let them speak and be heard.
  • If you take someone’s card, make distinguishing notes on the cards you take from them. Be sure to follow up with a handwritten note soon after the event. Call to mind something that occurred in your introduction. Tie the event into your note. If you promised them something, deliver. This is a differentiator as most people take cards and they sit in a pile collecting dust. For prospects you found known opportunity with, invite them to a social media connection like LinkedIn to forge the relationship further.
  • If you go to events with your coworkers be sure to separate while there. Your company’s odds of a return on investment go up if you are working different sections. Also, try and sit at tables where you do not know anyone. Even better, sit where someone you want to get to know is sitting. Never sit with your coworkers unless the seating is assigned. For example, if there are two of you at an event from your shop and the tables are rounds of 10, your company’s chances that the two of you will meet 18 people instead of eight just happened as a result.
  • Although there may be food and drinks galore at an event, it’s not your job to eat and drink. Your job is to promote your company and build relationships. Eat and drink less and listen to others more. Dress appropriately. Shine your shoes, as the little things do matter as they say.
  • Avoid heated topics especially around election time and holidays. Stick to common ground in your conversations as long as you are able in order to establish a positive connection.
  • Keep your messaging about your company brief and concise. Learn about their businesses and objectives.
  • Follow up with your connections. I have two rules when I do: Only call on them when you have both something new and of value to bring them.

I have always seen my attending events as a responsibility to my company and to the betterment of my professional life. I am every bit “on the clock” while out at events as when at my desk. I am representing my company’s investment, and I may be the person’s first and lasting impression of my company. I am always amazed when I can trace back a job, project or customer to my first “chance” meeting and think of the benefits I have been able to bring to them by what I do for them over time. Time and production equal credibility, and companies and individuals must deliver consistently over time in order to be seen as authentic and valuable. It all starts at the first handshake.

Kevin Goodman is the managing director, partner with BlueBridge Networks, a downtown Cleveland-headquartered data-center and cloud computing business. He can be reached at (216) 621-2583 and [email protected].