This guest post was written by Daniel Heyman, Cofounder of Stack AI.
Think back to your last networking event. What did you get from it? How has it helped you or your business? If you are like most people, you are not getting enough value from networking events.
You attend, a little reluctantly perhaps; you meet a few people who might be interesting; and you struggle to convert these new contacts into useful professional relationships. Maybe you add them to LinkedIn. Maybe you lose a business card. Maybe you email once and never again.
Networking events are opportunities to meet new people, learn about the market and build business relationships that can move both your company and your career forward. Here are four steps to make your next networking event better:
1. Figure out why (and then forget about it)
This sounds remarkably simple and straightforward, but it’s crucial. Know your goals.
Why do you network? Are you trying to find new clients? Do you have a job opening you’re trying to fill? Do you think it might advance your career? Most people have never actually thought about this question.
Personally, my overarching goals are to get advice from entrepreneurs with more experience than I have and to find potential clients for our company.
Once you know what you need, you can actually get people to help you. You can express your needs and ask advice. However, don’t focus on them when you’re at a networking event.
2. Network for the long-term
The goal of a networking event is not to find solutions to your problems.
Instead, your first objective should be to meet people you have a connection with. Whether they can help you should come second. The connection is crucial for any genuine, long-term relationship — and long-term business relationships are always the most valuable. Fancy job titles and company names are often bad reasons to stay in touch with someone.
If I meet Joe at a party and I find him interesting, I’ll stay in touch. I won’t know if Joe can advise me with my entrepreneurial trials, or if he will be a client, but the odds are someone in Joe’s network can provide those insights. By building long-term friendships with people, you access not only their insights but their network’s insights, exponentially leveraging your relationships.
Amazingly, networking for the long-term is more fun, more genuine, and more productive all at once. You actually get to engage with people you enjoy and skip the empty chit chat (for the most part).
3. Set specific goals for the evening
Set a target for the number of people you want to meet. For a cocktail event, I try to meet at least 5 people. Every time I get tired or bored or distracted, I remind myself that I haven’t hit my target. It helps motivate me to go and start one more conversation.
This also helps me define if I’ve had a successful evening. Meeting 5 people— ideally 5 interesting people— is great. The next step is to try and keep in touch.
Sometimes, there are people you specifically want to meet at a networking event. Your goal is simple. Meet those people and get their contact details. If you have time, scanning the attendee or speaker list at an event is a great way to figure out who might be interesting. But even in these situations, try to also meet a broader group of people than just those you are targeting.
4. Have a system for the follow-Up
Be sure you collect contact information for the people you want to follow-up with, and make sure you have a system to stay in touch with them.
No, do not give them your card and wait to hear back. Don’t be afraid to be proactive.
All too often I hear, “I can’t find their business card” or “I emailed but never got a response.” People are busy and building professional relationships doesn’t always make the to-do list, even if it should. It’s up to you to make sure you do something about it.
I use my own product, Stack.ai, to follow-up with people I meet, but there are other good systems. I know people who swear by Scannable, Evernote’s business card scanner, and some friends swear by Wunderlist.
Whatever your solution, make sure you have a system that helps you digitize the contact information, allows you to jot down a couple of notes so you actually remember who the person is, and reminds you to follow up at the appropriate moment.
In the end, networking events are opportunities, and you have to be open for the opportunity no matter where it might lead you. Meet interesting people of all kinds, build long-term relationships with them, and leverage those relationships. It’s not a complicated framework, but it also does happen on its own!
Do you have comments or tips on networking? Ask us in the comments section below or contact Early Growth Financial Services for a free 30-minute financial consultation.
Daniel Heyman is co-founder of Stack AI, an AI-enhanced mobile tool for successful networking. Stack AI helps individuals and small teams build stronger relationships with people in their professional networks. Prior to founding Stack, Daniel was COO of the Demeter Entrepreneur Support Network.