Networking 101: Five Tips to Networking Greatness

Networking is one of those words that is both ubiquitous and obscure. Ubiquitous because almost everyone will tell you it’s something that as an entrepreneur, solo-preneur, freelancer, job seeker, opportunist or even happily-working person, you unequivocally need to do. Obscure because networking often consists of anything and everything. Ordering a coffee at Starbucks? That’s a potential networking opportunity. Headed to a speaking event, therein lies another opportunity — and the list goes on. When the thought of networking starts to induce overwhelm, take a step back and make a strategy. Here are five tips to make you a stellar networker:

1.) Where to start

The first hurdle to creating a networking strategy is figuring out where exactly you are going to network. Once you dive in, you’ll learn of more and more opportunities and events, but where do you begin? A good place to start is MeetUp.com where you’ll find everything under the sun. Hone in on your industry and something is sure to pop up in your area. Other resources to start with include General Assembly, checking out what’s happening at a local co-working space, or if you live in the NYC area, Gary’s Guide. When you attend these events ask others what events they go to and publications they read, and you’re sure to walk away with an even more robust list. Try to attend at least one networking event a week and before you know it, you’ll have a great reference point for the meetings that are most valuable to you — and where you can add most value.

2.) Show up early

For those that really don’t love to schmooze, this one may seem counter-intuitive, but hear us out. Most people dread being one of the first ones at a networking event, but it can actually be a great advantage. The reason is that it’s easier to connect with people in smaller groups, so you’ll almost always meet a small group of people you can connect with off the bat and get the ball rolling. And if you do enjoy schmoozing, then showing up early gives you even more of a head start.

3.) Just say something

Networking can be awkward, even for the biggest social rock stars. Having an agenda can make conversations feel forced and unnatural, prompting even the best networkers to desperately graze the buffet table for an out. So forget the agenda and give yourself the green light to act like a human! Just introduce yourself to someone and almost inevitably they will welcome the opportunity to connect. And don’t lead with a pitch, just lead with a normal human introduction such as, “hello, what brings you here?” or “what did you think of the speaker?” Leading with “so what do you do?” makes it all about career and less about personal connection. Get to know the person first and let job-related topics unveil of themselves naturally.

4.) Know when to end it

We’ve all been there: you’re in the middle of a long-winded conversation with no end in site and you’re praying for a perfectly-timed phone call or a McKinsey-level exit strategy. So stop torturing yourself and just end it—politely! Chances are the other person will be happy you did as well. A simple, “it was great to meet you, I am going to catch up with a few more contacts” will do. No need to feel bad, it’s a networking event after all. You’ve come to meet lots of people, so go meet ‘em.

5.) Continue the Relationship

Networking is relationship building, not transacting. You don’t need to close a deal in five minutes, but rather focus on meeting people that you want to continue connecting with after the event. Always ask for their preferred way of keeping in touch and take interest in their social media details so that you can see what kinds of topics they follow and promote. Having a way of continuing the conversation and finding ways to add value to their business and network is a great way to build meaningful relationships for the long term.

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