Seven Ways to Grow Your Network

Networking is about creating a “small world” of really great relationships and about growing the influence and reach of your organization. This doesn’t just happen; you have to make a consistent effort at it. You no doubt have heard of “glad-handing,” “working the room,” or “mixing it up.” That’s part of what needs to be done. You need to be with the people who can help to change the power balance in favor of your organization, share information about your organization, and let them get to know you.

To be really effective, however, you should have a game plan in mind before you even accept an invitation to an event. That way, you can maximize your efforts. Here are seven tips to better networking that you can put into practice today.

1. Know What to Do.
You should always arrive at a networking event early. This is when some of your best contacts will be made. Be one of the last to leave as well. Work the room and avoid the buffet line and the bar; you can’t shake hands, give out your card, or write a note when your hands are full of crudités and a cocktail. That’s why you get there early, eat, grab a drink, then keep your hands free for the rest of the event.

2. Have a Networking Objective.
Why are you at this event? Have you targeted potential donors or clients? Set some goals for yourself. During each networking event, try to meet a certain number of new people (aim for 5-10 to start). Set a target number of follow-up appointments (2-3 coffee/lunch meetings).

3. Always be Promoting.
Wear a name tag with your name and organization printed in plain view. Remember, your name tag goes on your right lapel. A professionally produced, permanent name tag is better than the adhesive tag you scrawl your name on with a Sharpie, but that’s better than nothing! Make sure you write your name legibly and large enough so no one has a hard time reading it.

Practice a 15, 30, and 60-second summary statement about what you do. You won’t get any more time than that to get your message across. If the whole room is introducing themselves around the tables, let people know what you have to offer. Remember to dress appropriately as most people get their impression of you before you even open your mouth to introduce yourself.

If two of you are representing the same organization, each of you should have a message. Don’t just say, “Oh, I’m with CDS, too.” If you have the opportunity to increase the frequency of your message, do it! Don’t be afraid. You have a message people want to hear! Start a conversation. Go up to someone you don’t know, and introduce yourself.

4. Listen.
The best networkers are the best listeners. You impress contacts by showing you’re interested in them and in their organization. Everyone loves to talk about themselves, so stand back and listen. By listening you already know more about them than the person next to you.

Eye contact is extremely important. If your eyes are darting all over the room then they will feel like you don’t care about what they are saying and interpret that as being rude. The hardest thing to change is your reputation.

5. Use your Business Cards.
Hand out (and collect!) as many business cards as you can comfortably carry. Keep your card separate from those you have received. Rule of Thumb: Keep your cards in your right coat pocket and the cards you collect in your left.

Have a pen with you. On the back of the business card you just collected, write down why you collected that person’s card, and what the follow-up should be. If you have a hard time remembering names, include a little fact about the person you just spoke with that will help you remember them in the future.

6. Mingle throughout the Room.
Concentrate on quality contacts, not on quantity. You won’t be able to meet everyone, but if you follow your plan, you’ll meet with the right people.Explore with another person how you can support each others’ ideas, missions, and goals. If a conversation gets tired, end it gracefully. Be polite when you are cornered by someone who is boring you and wasting your time. This will happen. Politely excuse yourself and move on.

Do not wait for someone to suggest what he/she can do for you; propose how you might help your new contact. Don’t keep score! Avoid the “who did what for me” syndrome. Ask questions that will help you find out how you can develop a relationship with them. Make them realize that they need your services.

Talking to one person for a long time can be counterproductive. If the conversation is one that you feel should be continued, make an appointment for coffee or lunch and move on to another person. Don’t spend too much time with people you already know, except to introduce them to your new contacts.

And several key points to keep in mind: Don’t gossip; this is a killer, and always gets back to you. Don’t barge into conversations; wait to be introduced or welcomed into the group. Watch your consumption of caffeine and alcohol; you’re on the clock, representing your organization.

7. It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.
Since you have done all of the good work of meeting people, sharing information about what you can offer, and maybe even making some tentative appointments for another day, it’s important to keep your contacts up to date. Surprise your contacts by e-mailing them the next day and following that up with hand-written note!

By following these tips, you should be developing a great list of people in your community who know you. You job now is to discover how they can get to know you and your organization even better. Then get ready to go out and build even more relationships.

And don’t forget to save a business card for the door prize drawing!

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