Networking that Connects

Many people hate to network, and I use to be one of them. People are uncomfortable because they don’t know anyone, forgetting that this is the case for most who are in attendance. Early on in my career as a business owner, I dreaded networking events because I often thought they did not net me any new business or critical relationships to help my business to grow. I did not understand that it was not just about me but me and my business; my own personal growth and even helping others. If you look up the definition of networking, you find that the word is a verb. It is an action word which means connect or operate with a network. To network is to link or interact with other people and to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further your career or business. This means that networking is more than an event, it is an opportunity for connecting and interacting with others and this in itself can lead to success.

Networking requires an attitude of being “outward-focused,” and this is when you gain more internally and externally. I can recall times when I would attend contracting, chamber or women events and look around the room in a daze wondering who I should approach, why am I here and what should I get out of this. I would notice people staring at me while I was staring back at them, but neither of us would make a move to the other for a conversation. It was frustrating because I do enjoy meeting new people. However, I would feel the pressure of trying to fit in with a group of people I did not already know yet. Not to mention being somewhat shy certainly did not help these anxieties. I know I am not alone in this. Many people are not naturally aggressive in networking situations, in fact, they dread it, but if we want to gain and give value we must move beyond standing on the sidelines looking at others playing the game but not participating in the game ourselves.

Here are some tips that I have personally learned and now practice to achieve networking that connects.

1. Move Your Body – I have been a Weight Watcher for over twenty years, and one of the first things I learned from them is that I should not just focus on food for diet, but I must move my body in exercise for things to happen with my weight loss efforts. The point here is, If you want to experience networking that connects, you must move your body around the room, get off the sidelines and get engage with others. Set a goal for yourself of how many people you will meet and set up some time (i.e. a meeting or lunch appointment) away from the event you are attending. Don’t be afraid to join in, if you don’t move around, nothing will happen, and you will leave the event as you came it. You are at this event for a good reason, therefore, remember that efficient networking can help you make new contacts and create exciting business opportunities, so move your body and go after them.

2. Listen and Learn – I could remember as a child, hearing my teachers say if you listen you might learn something. As funny as the memory seems today, that principal certainly hasn’t changed. Listen and learn takes what I call “concentrated focus” to hear with your ears and your head. While networking, it is necessary to be thinking about what knowledge you need to know and get to quickly establish a connection.
Have you ever attended an event and could not remember the names of people you met that made an impact on you or some details about something they shared to help your business and you could not remember what they said. Or how about, you forgot to ask for a business card to follow up with them at a later time. I recall a time; I met a senior procurement buyer who was telling me about an upcoming bid that would have been a great opportunity for my company and the distractions around us caused me to miss some information about the upcoming pre-bid meeting he was conducting, and I forgot to get his card. I was distracted by other things going on around me, and I missed out. This was a big blunder, and I learned that our success in networking depends on how well we listen and learn which brings immediate value to the relationship and many new ideas for growth. With the tools of technology we carry around today (i.e., cell phones, pads) we don’t have too many excuses not to make contacts.

3. PMA – Keep a positive mental attitude at all times. Don’t stress it leads to a mess. Be confident and stay cool. Attitude is everything, and PMA is the only thing winners have. If you want to win, be successful and meet the people who could mentor you or become a future business partner, your attitude must reflect this confidence and surety on your face and in your body language. Your attitude is felt in the energy you give. This is the first thing people see and feel and many times it is felt from a distance. When you are positive people, want what you have and what you are selling. They want to be around you and hear what you have to say. Smile and be enthusiastic about the opportunities in the room. Remember, whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve. This concept has helped me meet some powerful leaders and decision makers over the years.

4. Focus on Giving – Remember I said that networking is an action word which means you should be giving as much as you are getting. Even if you don’t have things in common with someone, you can perhaps offer something that is of value to help their cause or business. The first chamber I joined, I recognized they did not have a program to train business owners on MBE/WBE certifications, and I knew this would bring value to the organization and our community. I was nervous about sharing it because I was new to the chamber and wasn’t sure how it would be received. Later, I decided to speak to the President about it along with some ideas I had to introduce a program that would benefit women and minority members, and to my surprise, it was well received and today that chamber has implemented training to educate the entire business community about the opportunities these MBE/WBE certifications bring. Remember, sometimes you have to think “outwardly” because you can bring value. When you are focused on giving to others, it can often show you that you have a higher purpose than your own. Mainly, you have experience, education, resources and relationships to refer and all these things when you give them away allows you to feel good about the contributions you bring to the table. This leads to networking that connects for years to come. Afterall, a healthy network of business contacts can be one of your most significant assets. It can help you find customers, generate some new and fresh ideas and put you in touch with key relationships, financial partners, suppliers, and mentos or advisors.

5. Follow-Up – I cannot begin to tell you how many times I left an event and forgot to follow-up with new contact I met. I would get busy with life and business. Sometimes I even misplace business cards because I did not have a system in place for following up with new contacts. It was frustrating! I learned that follow-up is as necessary as moving my body to meet someone at a networking event. If you don’t make a plan to follow-up with a thank you call or card, invite someone to lunch or for coffee, or just a simple phone call to say: it was great meeting you or I wanted to follow-up on our conversation, can we meet you have shot yourself in the foot. The person who barks the loudest gets heard in business. In other words, people remember you when you reach out and follow up. It shows initiative and value in starting and building a relationship. It is just that simple. Don’t let time, heavy schedules and meetings keep you from this important step. Remember, “out of sight, out of mind” is true in business. Show people you care and the relationship matters to you. Follow-up is making things happen; it is moving the chip on the game board so get ready to win by following -up.

These are a few strategies that have helped me to conquer those awkward networking moments over the years and can help you too. Overcoming fears and anxiety about networking that connects can help you take your business to the next level with the right contact. Networking can also be fun when you shift your mindset to have a PMA identifying and exploring shared interest while expanding your views of who you are and what your business has to offer to others.

Finally, in today’s world, networking is necessary to grow and expand. There is no way around it. It can lead to many opportunities and success. According to the Harvard Business Review, a ton of research has shown that professional networks can lead to job and business opportunities, broader and more in-depth knowledge and improve your capacity to create, innovate and advance which leads to higher status and credibility (HBR). So go after those resources and relationships, start networking to connect today.

Tawanna Heyward-Bey
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