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Networking Involves Much More Than Exchanging Business Cards
by Chris King

Years ago when I attended what were termed as “Networking Events” we basically walked around smiling and exchanging business cards. When I got back to the office, I would look through my handful of cards, not remembering any of the faces that went with the names on the cards, and eventually throwing most of them away. I don’t remember anyone ever calling me because of this time-wasting ritual. Networking when performed with a plan and with panache, on the other hand, can reap huge benefits including speaking engagements, if that’s what you crave, or lots of lucrative business. Let’s take a look at networking with a purpose that produces results.

Start with knowing why you are networking. Before attending any kind of event, trade show, and/or gathering, ask yourself why you are taking the time to do this and what do you hope to gain from the networking. Just like having a business plan and setting goals give us direction, making a networking plan with goals will add value to the time you spend. For example, if you are giving a presentation which follows some type of gathering — a meal perhaps — it is a good idea to get there early and take part before presenting. When I was an unknown, aspiring speaker I found this method to be unbelievably helpful. By the time I got up on my feet to speak, I already had friends in the audience. The outcome was that they liked me before I started, which helped me relax and give better presentations. I often attend gatherings to touch base with people I know, plus meet at least one new person, and learn at least one new piece of information or find the solution to one problem — and there are always problems to solve now that I am doing so much computer work.

Rather than racing around trying to talk with as many people as possible, focus on one or two conversations. There was a time when I would set my networking goal to talk with as many people as possible. It was lively and fun, but from a follow-up business standpoint, not very fruitful. I now focus on having one or two in-depth conversations, take down some notes on a business card, and follow-up within a few days. This takes the superficial quality out of the meeting and using this approach, I have made some excellent on-going contacts. If the person you are talking with asks about some information you have mentioned, make a note to get back to them, either through e-mail, on the phone, or by snail mail. Actually, by dropping a handwritten note or card to someone, along with a brief article about a topic you discussed, you will make a long-lasting impression. So few people take the time to write notes today, your gesture will be unforgettable.

Handle business cards with professionalism and thought. Remember, we are not in the business card give-and-take mode. Yes, I always hand my card to someone I am interviewing or have a designated appointment with. But, in a networking event situation, I always wait until the other person asks me for my card before foisting it on them. And just because someone pushes their card into my hand, I don’t automatically give them one of mine. This is just my belief, but this way I leave with the cards of people I want to see again. However, I am always ready. I wear a jacket or outfit with two pockets — one with my cards and one for the cards I am handed. This makes the transition of cards smooth and easy. Also, I always have up-to-date cards with me. I feel that there is nothing more unprofessional than someone handing me a card with a phone number or other information crossed out or written in. Business cards are so reasonably priced, there is no excuse for handing out a poor excuse for a card. You can even print up a few on your computer, although many of these are made with low-grade paper.

Be on the lookout for a variety of networking opportunities. When attending meetings, seminars, classes, and presentations by others, you will have a chance to meet and talk with people who are also attending because they have similar interests. Being active in associations and clubs in your field of endeavor is a great way to become known as a good and dependable worker. Now that I am a free agent, I find that all of the work I am doing — and I am extremely busy — has resulted from contacts I have made in the past through serving on committees or boards. I am also on the lookout for networking opportunities that pop up during daily routines. For example, I often see people at the grocery store, the library, and coffee shops. Just today I saw a woman at the store with whom I had worked organizationally years ago, and after I asked what she was doing now, she, of course, asked me the same. When I told her “web design” her eyes lighted up because the person who had been maintaining her business’ site just moved out of town. We exchanged business cards, and there is a good chance we will at least discuss web design in the near future.

Remember, networking in today’s tough market is a necessity. And with a bit of your imagination added, the opportunities to make it successful are all around us. Go to it, have fun, and make lots of excellent contacts!

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