Networking Strategically

In honor of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Conference (what some call the Super Bowl of networking), I wanted to run excerpts of a bylined piece I was asked to write on strategic networking for the latest Chaldean American Chamber’s quarterly news magazine:

Strategic networking [promoting one’s self, business and services] can be one of the most important marketing avenues you ever undertake and can take many shapes and forms: a networking reception; a charitable golf outing; an industry business conference. What is key is not just a matter of participation, it is how you approach and make the most of such opportunities, both during and after each respective event.

Keep in mind that “success” (typically developing new business and contacts) does not happen overnight. If you are expecting to attend a couple of events, pass out and collect a few business cards and then watch the phone ring you are likely to be disappointed. Today more than ever, people do business with people they know and trust. Like any relationship, building a productive business relationship takes time and effort.

Meeting new people can often prove challenging and daunting. When joining a new organization, leverage existing relationships with longtime members as well as organizational leadership to help make initial introductions. Hone your “elevator speech” to the point that you can succinctly and compellingly communicate what you do and how you do it better in 60 seconds or less. And don’t forget those business cards (which hopefully contain all pertinent online information including web address and social media URLs).

Key to maximizing memberships or event participation is to become tangibly involved. Work toward joining a Board or Committee germane to your area of expertise. Assist in the planning and implementation of an important event or organizational undertaking. The camaraderie developed in such scenarios can prove invaluable.

But perhaps the most important element in all of your strategic networking outreach and interacting with people through such initiatives is listening. All too often individuals make the mistake of talking and “selling” and not being receptive to hearing the needs of those they are speaking with. Think: How can I help you?

Finally: stay in touch. Don’t discount particular individuals because they work in lines of work that, at face value, you are not interested in. Add everyone you meet to a master list for later outreach (for example, e-blast updates on your company and its accomplishments). Treat everyone you meet with respect. Remember that first impressions are as important as anything. Face to face interaction and discourse, through networking, is where it all begins.