I recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post in which I shared with readers my love for informal networking and how I seem to be a magnet for bizarre networking encounters (Hint: One such encounter happened as I was wrapped in a towel in the gym locker room!).
As much as I seem to be a magnet for these random networking opportunities, I also make a conscious effort to put myself out there when it comes to making new connections. Networking is important in the corporate world, but it is imperative when leading a start-up. I was surprised by the number of doors that opened simply by telling others what I’m doing. Forming mutually beneficial relationships doesn’t seem to hurt either!
There are plenty of formal networking tips worth sharing, but for now I would like to share with you my top tips for informal networking. I am a firm believer in the philosophy of ALWAYS being on the lookout and ready to meet new people.
There are so many different ways to say “hello” and make those small connections that will enrich life both personally and professionally. Here are some of my favorites…
My 10 best (and simple!) tips for successful informal networking:
Before you meet someone:
1. Seek opportunities to meet people in casual settings
Whether it is joining a local Happy Hour meet-up (you can often find great events listed on Eventbrite), joining a local kickball league, or just attending a local gym, always be on the lookout for hot spots to meet new people.
2. Carry business cards
You never know when the opportunity will strike to make a connection that will ultimately benefit your business. Be prepared. Carry business cards at all times, especially business cards that include social media profiles (such as your Twitter @ handle), to make it easy for people to connect with you outside of email.
3. Dress to impress
I know this sounds contradicting to my earlier “hint” of meeting a professional contact while wrapped in a gym towel… but that situation was unavoidable!
You do not have to be dressed to the nines at all times (especially during uber-casual situations like a gym outing), but it’s helpful to remember that a first impression is the most important impression – and people do judge the book by it’s cover, as the saying goes…
Make the effort to look presentable whenever you are in public, which will give you a “s/he has it all together” look. As a bonus, looking sharp will also boost your confidence and will in turn give you the motivation to put yourself out there more to others!
During the conversation:
4. Make eye contact
Making eye contact demonstrates that you are truly focused on your conversation. It makes the other person feel heard and important. This basic tactic goes a long way in making a positive long term impression.
Repeat the person’s name back to them in the beginning and the end of the conversation – This trick not only helps the other person feel recognized, but it will help you remember their name!
5. Ask “How can I add value?”
I used to profusely thank people for their time and perspective. While I admit I still might go overboard on showing gratitude, I’ve trained myself (thanks to a nudge from my friend, Helen Quick) to ask, “How can I add value to you?” This line goes over well no matter who I’m meeting with. Just be prepared to actually follow up!
6. Have a “call to action”
As my mentor and the prolific author, John Maxwell, recently told me, Every engagement ought to lead to the next engagement. Never have a meeting without the expectation that something should follow. Set yourself up for the follow-up.
7. Before ending the conversation with your new connection, tell him or her how you plan to follow-up.
Simply stating, “I will send you an email for a coffee date” will let that person know that you are serious about staying in touch. Of course, follow through on the commitment.
After you meet someone:
8. Follow-up immediately
After you meet someone, your encounter is fresh in their mind… keep it that way! Don’t wait days before emailing him or her. Immediately after meeting someone new, send the person an email, Tweet, or give them a call thanking them for taking the time to meet you.
9. Connect him/her with someone else you know
I’m a firm believer in the importance of not only selling yourself to others (when it comes to networking), but also connecting people. If you met someone who does social media marketing and you know a friend looking to hire a marketing consultant, facilitate an introduction.
I strive to create mutually beneficial connections within my network of personal and professional contacts and I’m constantly blown away by how appreciative people are. As an added bonus, contacts often put me in touch with some of their fabulous connections in return.
10. Keep in touch (mark it on your calendar!)
When you meet someone new, be sure to mark your calendar with future check-in dates with that person. Do you want to connect with them monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually? Whatever the desired frequency may be, marking these check-ins on your calendar is a helpful reminder to keep the relationship going.
Now to you: How do you best bridge connections with others as a young entrepreneur? I would love to hear your unique informal networking stories and tips – please share below in the comments section!
Carrie Rich is the co-founder and CEO of The Global Good Fund, an organization dedicated to investing in the leadership development of high potential young entrepreneurs committed to social impact. Carrie enjoys photography, other people’s cooking and jogging, on occasion.