People who pooh-pooh business networking as an essential part of their professional toolkit either fear it or are doing it wrong. There, I said it–I feel much better now. I doubt there are many business owners who would disagree with me, but a few might troll me on social media just the same.
As a micro-business owner, I have limited funds for my marketing and promotional efforts. So I put my hard-earned revenue where my sweet spot is: networking. I can’t think of one writing/editing project I acquired that didn’t result from an initial networking encounter or a referral from a business-networking amigo.
My (paid) professional memberships and gratis affiliations cast a wide net of weekly networking opportunities. It’s up to me to be proactive. Making time to meet new people and catch up with the peeps I already know, like, and trust is important.
This post embodies the spirit of all the good examples set for me by professionals and entrepreneurs who represent the best of what business networking can be. I humbly present the last business-networking road map you’ll ever need during your worldly travels. Sara Rosenberg, this one is for you…
Ensure Your Breath Is as Honest as Your Resume: You are what you eat, as is your breath. Therefore, partake of something distinctive before attending your next daytime or evening networking event.
Best foods to consume before venturing out include raw garlic, any type of blue cheese, onions, and the other pungent goodies mentioned in this Thrillist article.
By distinguishing your breath’s signature note(s), you guarantee that new business friends will remember you always!
Don’t Dress for Success–Dress to Profess Your Individuality: Social media hasn’t merely shifted the paradigm regarding how we conduct business in the 21st century. It’s given birth to a new model the size of Planet Earth.
Free enterprise is much more informal and casual these days. One must either jump on the bandwagon or jump out of the way. This includes how you present your physical self in the offline world. Yes, I’m referring to your professional attire.
You hesitate to wear polka dots and plaids to a business golf outing? If that’s your true calling, I say: don’t hold back.
You’re unsure those four-inch Roman-gladiator platform shoes (laced up to your skirt’s hem) are the best footwear choice when being introduced to a prospective client (while you’re at, I don’t know, an early morning networking breakfast)? Marcus Aurelius would tell you:
“He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.” (Source: BrainyQuote.com)
Cyndi Lauper and I see your true colors shining through–never suppress a business-wardrobe impulse!
Food Is Priority #1 When You Arrive at Your Networking Destination: You’re a busy king cobra or queen bee, which means you thrive on ignoring hunger pangs. The remedy for such selfless behavior is obvious. As soon as you reach your networking destination, ask the event’s organizer when the meal will be served.
Even more important: When attending a business gathering that doesn’t include a prepaid meal, ask the organizer where the complimentary refreshments are and for how long they will be served/replenished. An agile predator such as yourself is always hungry like the wolf. Never arrive at a networking venue without a food strategy.
The “I” in the Word Interruption Is All About YOU: Crackerjack conversation is the name of the game when you’re out networking. Your mission is to involve yourself in as many conversations as possible, even if the topics and people associated with these discussions don’t interest you.
Thanks to the somewhat impersonal nature of online engagement, we all know good manners don’t matter much these days. Be the barracuda, be the shark, but don’t jump the shark. When you see two people engrossed in a “closed” networking dyad, get in there and break it up (or down).
If you successfully redirect the discussion toward you and your business, fantastic. If not, move on to the next already-in-process conversation, but remember to leave your business card behind as a memento of the occasion.
Know When to Trash Other Networking Attendees’ Business Cards (And When to Hold ‘Em): First impressions are sometimes 98.9% accurate. (Source: my overactive brain.) You must be fearless. Don’t hesitate to make “snap” decisions about the new people you meet at a networking function.
Sure, your spider senses tingle whenever you encounter someone who desperately needs your product or professional service. But why bother holding onto the business cards of folks who will never buy from you?
The solution is obvious. Before leaving an event, find the closest trash receptacle and (discretely) declutter your pockets or purse.
Only business cards from soon-to-be customers are keepers. Get comfortable with this important networking maneuver!
How Will You Remember Your Sales Pitch Unless You Silently Rehearse It?: If you do happen to engage another networking attendee in a conversation lasting longer than five minutes, you’re on your way to closing another sale.
But as the discussion begins to deepen, you realize it’s hard to keep your sales pitch intact whilst paying attention to what the other person is saying.
And then, clarity arrives: You must provide the appropriate non-verbal cues (this includes positive head-shaking, some verbal fillers such as “hmm” and “okay”, mirrored body language, etc.). By doing so, you’ll simulate attentive listening. You’ll also ensure knowing what to say next to bring your sales pitch full circle.
Stick to the Networking Winners, Stay Clear of the Networking Wallflowers: This is probably the most consequential of networking rules. Please permanently etch it upon your business psyche. It works without fail for the “A-listers” you most likely want to emulate: Hollywood celebrities, professional athletes, reality TV-show participants, and YouTube stars like Grumpy Cat.
You are not a loser. Thus, avoid speaking with anyone who LOOKS like a networking loser. The corollary to this rule: Networking newbies tend to favor dark, secluded corners and front entrances, so don’t speak to people frequenting these areas of blatant weakness.
Memorize this ironclad principle of successful networking. If other attendees don’t have the professional cojones to be bold at a networking event, you are not obligated to scrape them off the wall. As Miranda Priestly of Runway Magazine would say, “That’s all…”
Nothing Displays Good Networking Etiquette Like Leaving Empty-Handed: This is my final tip to you–heed it well. Don’t leave any networking event until you’ve dispensed all the business cards, sell sheets, brochures, and/or promotional giveaways you brought to the party.
The best time to become the kamikaze pilot of your dreams (and carpet bomb other event attendees) is while navigating your exit’s flight path. Respect the oath of office those graduating U.S. Navy Officer Candidate School ensigns recite at the end of An Officer and a Gentleman:
“…you take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion…”
Happy April Fools’ Day to you, gentle reader. I hope you don’t think me completely and deliriously mad. A much more viable networking strategy to follow is Sara Rosenberg’s Zen-enlightened path, also known as PowerMatch.
I know I don’t need to remind you that my “advice” should be wholeheartedly avoided. Run away from these tips each and every time you participate in the limbo dance known as business networking.
Final words of wisdom:
“There’s an old saying in Tennessee–I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee–that says, fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me…you can’t get fooled again.” (Source: Anyone care to guess?)
Lori Shapiro is the owner of By All Writes LLC, a business-to-business (B2B) writing, editing, and research company in Marlton, New Jersey. She revels in shielding her clients from the pain of writing their own print or web marketing and educational copy. Please call Lori Shapiro at 856-810-9764 or email By All Writes LLC at firstname.lastname@example.org for a no-obligation project quote today!