You know networking is essential for building your business, but you’ve hit a wall. You’ve done your share of keeping up-to-date with former colleagues and providing LinkedIn updates, but you’re not seeing results.
You need to smarten up your networking habits. Here are six ways to do it:
1. Have a strategy first.
The key to acting smarter for anything related to your business – whether it’s launching a new product, marketing through Facebook, or networking for connections – is to start with a plan.
Think about what types of people you want to meet, including those within your industry, potential customers, and business partners. You will also want to target a few specific individuals and devise a way to stay in contact with the people you do meet – either through newsletters, a blog, or regular lunch meetings.
2. Meet people face-to-face.
These days, more and more entrepreneurs are relying on online networking. This isn’t a bad thing. Online, you can “meet” people you would never be able to see in person because of the physical distance between the two of you. But if you’re solely networking through the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, you’re missing out.
You are more likely to make a solid connection when you connect with someone in person. Because people tend to do business with individuals they know and like, you need to get in front of people.
3. Put yourself out there.
One fabulous way to increase your networking opportunities, especially in person, is to put yourself in front of others. Volunteer to host a gathering of business owners for your next local Chamber of Commerce brunch, or be on a panel at a larger event. Putting yourself in front of people and showing off your expertise in a helpful way makes other people want to know you.
If the thought of going up to people without an introduction makes you nervous, a speaking engagement could be a way to ease into the more intimate conversations. After the panel or talk is over, people will be introducing themselves to you – instead of the other way around.
4. Let some relationships fade.
One way to be smart about networking is to realize that you simply can’t maintain hundreds of relationships. Sure, if you run a business blog, you can stay in contact with your readers, or you can keep up connections on a social media site. But you simply don’t have the time or resources to personally connect with lots and lots of people on a regular basis.
So know that it’s okay to strategically allow some relationships to fade out naturally over time, if the person is no longer in your field. Just make sure you think twice before allowing this to happen, and always make an effort to keep up with any connections that are truly mutually beneficial.
5. Keep track of likes and dislikes.
If you want to form a stronger relationship with someone, scan his blog or check out her Facebook “About” section. What does this person like and dislike – both on a personal and a professional level?
While you wouldn’t want someone to feel like you are spying, the reviews of their social media pages can clue you in on their preferences, and ideally serve as a good reminder for facts you already know about a person. Another option, for those of you not good at remembering even your spouse’s favorite color, is to make an Excel spreadsheet to jot down information about people in your network, and use it as a reference before meetings.
6. Connect on a personal level.
While networking is mainly meant to be professional, you can get more enjoyment out of networking by connecting with others on a personal level. Find some commonalities, whether it’s that you live in the same neighborhood, both have children, or enjoy mountain climbing. When you show a genuine interest in other people are able to find common interests, you are more likely to be top of mind the next time they make a referral or have an opportunity.
Smarter networking doesn’t necessarily mean working harder or networking more. You only have so many hours in a week, and you can’t spend all of them working on your network. But using these six tips, you can build stronger networking relationships more quickly.
Daniela Baker is a small business blogger and social media advocate at CreditDonkey.com, a website where small business owners can compare business credit card deals.