How To Let Networking Pay Big Dividends
By Rhonda Campbell
A little over two decades ago who would have thought that all you’d need is a computer to secure a job, land business clients, read a full-color magazine from cover to cover or take college graduate level business courses? However, if you do the bulk of your work on the Internet, you may not have loads of success with two of the items. After all, unlike reading online magazines and taking virtual college courses, it generally takes an effective online and offline networking strategy to realize employment and client relationship dividends.
Networking and Online Social Media Sites
Mention networking and the first places that might pop into your mind are online social media sites like SistaSense, Facebook, Black Woman Network, Twitter, Linkedin, Onyx Woman Network and Entrepreneurs on the Move. True. You can meet and connect with new business leaders online, positioning yourself to receive client and business referrals. However, in-person networking also has benefits.
For starters, you, your friends, relatives and prospective customers lean heavily on body language to communicate. Learn to read body language and you can know when someone is nervous, wants to end a conversation, is interested in learning more about your business or would like to keep in regular contact with you. Furthermore, some people prefer to meet in person or to talk on the telephone when discussing detailed business agreements, sales initiatives or job prospects.
Places Where You Can Network Offline
A good thing about networking in person is that it doesn’t require much preparation since you know what you’re going to introduce to others at networking events (i.e. yourself, your business) better than anyone else. Below is a list of places where you can network offline. Networking at most of these places won’t cost you a cent. Additionally, professionals who frequent the below locations come expecting to meet business leaders like you.
- Professional association annual sessions, conferences, seminars, etc.
- Local Chamber of Commerce events
- College or university alumni events
- Trade shows
- Business retreats
- Cultural festivals and fairs
Effective Networking Habits
Now that you’ve started attending face-to-face (and online) networking events, to get the most out of the experiences take note of (and practice) the following networking etiquette behaviors:
- Ask other attendees for their business card or contact information as you pass out your contact information
- Address event attendees by their first name (this one step can pay off hugely)
- Actively listen to people while they’re speaking with you (stay off your Blackberry, iPad, etc. while speaking with someone in person)
- Offer tips to attendees who discuss business challenges with you (of course, only do this if you’re familiar with the business other attendees operate in)
- Stay positive in your conversations and demeanor
- Repeat key facts other attendees share with you about their business as you talk with them, lets attendees know you’re paying attention
- Dress for the occasion (some networking events are informal while others are more formal)
- Follow-up with people you promised to follow-up with (you’d be surprised how many business leaders promise to stay connected to people they meet at networking events but never do)
- Don’t make promises you know you have no intentions of keeping (e.g. introducing someone to a department store merchandise buyer)
Strengthen Your Networking Efforts
The world may appear to have gone virtual, businesses, friends and relatives keeping in touch online with increasing regularity. However, computer contacts are not an even swap for in-person relationships. There’s still something to be said for a handshake, a smile, a hug and genuine face-to-face conversation. Keep this in mind when you’re networking.
In fact, to strengthen your networking efforts regularly attend a combination of in-person and online networking events. Also, stay in touch with peers, former colleagues, members of your business’ target audience and B2B clients via the telephone and direct mail (e.g. postcards). Furthermore, whether you’re networking online or in-person remain professional. You never know who’s watching or listening and you are making an impression.
Rhonda Campbell, an East Coast journalist, is the owner of Off The Shelf radio and publisher of Long Walk Up and the forthcoming Love Pour Over Me.