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How Good Are You at Professional Networking?

Professional Networking events advertised as such are a waste of your time. Most people fail to appreciate the high value time has in your life. Sure, the online search for the lowest price of something can be rewarding, but the savings are rarely worth the time spent in the pursuit.  Bill Gates once said people spend more time shopping for a vacation deal than they spend planning for retirement. In that case, time is not properly prioritized. Networking events aren’t a priority for me because they aren’t a good use of my time.

Ironically, my business is completely reliant on high quality referrals. People don’t typically Google search to find an expert lobbyist. A prospective client will want to know someone else who attributes part of their success to working with me. The investment in the type of support I provide looks intimidating to some; they want the risk mitigated and will seek a reference from within their own network. 

I was recently asked to speak to a group of veterans about professional networking. The question was asked in the context of veterans attending networking events. The premise didn’t sit well with me because I don’t use networking events the way too many professionals use them.

So how did I answer this flawed question?

First, I reframed the scenario. Solid professional relationships are a key part of EVERY business. There are no exceptions to this maxim. You and I both need a strong network; my clarification is in how you develop that network. Solid relationships don’t emanate from a networking event—it’s not about the networking event. Professional networking is ongoing.

Relationships stem from how you work with, alongside and for other people. Networking is about showing your character, interest and concern for others, as well as showing your consistently professional conduct. Consistency suggests these qualities are demonstrated publicly over time.

Here are a few of my time-tested thoughts on how to make networking a part of your ongoing routine.

It’s not about you.

Relationships work in both directions, good and bad.

Be credible and reliable.

Consistently doing what you say you’ll do will go a very long way. When you miss a deadline or fail to deliver, you surrender credibility. People notice. Conversely, when your word truly means something is as good as done, people notice.

Speak clearly using language that is precise and demonstrates your knowledge and awareness of your issue or industry. Too many people speak too quickly, without thinking, and without listening to what others say.

Confidence in your business language will distinguish you from others. Click To Tweet

Don’t try closing a deal as you meet new people.

 It never works that way. Meeting people is about getting to know something about them. You’re not necessarily looking for a specific piece of business with every encounter.

Read the Wall Street Journal headlines daily.

When you are current on world events, you can offer thoughts, perspective and commentary from an informed position without having to prepare. Too many people capture their headlines solely from social media. As a result, their understanding of issues is often too low. The simple act of remaining current based on a reliable news source can set you apart.

Don’t be nervous.

You may be nervous talking to others because you are afraid of something; figure out what that something is that holds you back.

There is no risk. You are a peer; don’t be deferential when simply being polite will do. Stop self-editing.

The other person is at the same event, place or meeting for some reason. Have some prepared openers.

  • What brings you here?
  • What do you hope to get from the event or show?
  • Are you also attending the ACME event?

LinkedIn is a resource. 

Use it for research. It can be effective for outreach, but not for completely cold outreach. Use all of LinkedIn’s features. Sales Navigator is a premium worth paying for. Aren’t you or your business worth the small premium?

LinkedIn is a reliable resource for professional connectivity. Don’t let LinkedIn be the keeper of your contact info. Rules change on social media platforms. It’s your network and your contacts; keep the contact details in your own system.

Common mistakes I see others make in attempting to network at professional events.

You don’t need to be 1st degree connections with everyone – there are over 7 billion people in the world. The number of connections is a vanity metric. You want quality connections.

Going directly to the bar when arriving at a professional event? Stop and engage the first people you come across. Spending too much time in one place? Move around and don’t fall into the trap of hanging out with the same people at every event. Trying to get to a conclusion too quickly? Quality relationships, and quality business, will unfold over time. 

Appropriate actions after meeting someone new.

Follow ups after you meet. Too often, we accept someone’s card and it just gets added to the pile.

LinkedIn connection. Make the personalized LinkedIn connection reminding of the contact and willingness to follow up.

Send a short email. If there is potential for business, ask for a meeting, coffee, lunch, or visit.

My most valuable piece of advice on professional networking?

Be authentic. Give don’t take. Demonstrate credibility in your conduct.

The Make Your Move podcast is a multi-season series devoted to the lessons learned of military members in their post-active duty lives. I hope you enjoy the stories of the men and women brave enough to share their transition stories so publicly. Listen to the latest episode here.

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