As the old saying goes, “No man is an island,” and while it might sound cliché, in the world of business, it is 100% true. In the same way that any well-functioning business is an entity comprised of many different parts, all of them moving, all of them essential in order to function, any business needs a network to a similar degree. Even if your own business is functioning at peak performance, it still needs the stepping stones a network will provide in order to increase growth. It might seem daunting to put yourself out there and start networking, but management consultant Jason Borrevik has a guide on how to do it right.
Always Stay One Step Ahead
The first step is to ensure that you have a plan at all times. Networking isn’t something that you can or should improvise; rather, in order to get the most out of it you will want to plan ahead, well in advance, and most importantly in a proactive manner, well before you are desperate to make key connections.
A good place to start is to keep yourself well-supplied. This means having things such as business cards and resumes available so that you’re never caught off-guard when someone takes an interest. It also doesn’t hurt to go over what you intend to talk about in advance either so that you can be more comfortable and fluent when putting yourself out there.
In addition, says Jason Borrevik, you need a battle plan when it comes to who you are interacting with at particular networking events you attend. Do some research on who will be there and what they do, so that you can step right into a conversation with ease.
Make It Personal
The individuals with the best networking skills always dig deep when it comes to the details; you always want to engage with people on a personal and genuine level. Seemingly little things like remembering names, birthdays, interests, prior work interactions and experiences and so on have a huge impact when it comes to how engaging you seem in the moment and how memorable you’ll be after you’ve parted ways. It’s always a good idea to take the time to learn and remember these details.
It’s all about being genuine here. You want to avoid creating a networking persona that is perceived as phony or opportunistic. Remember to always be yourself: Be the same person that you are at work, at home, and everywhere else in-between, because you want to build trust in those critical moments where you’re making a first impression.
Another thing in this same vein that you can do is to mention your hobbies. Don’t be afraid to bring a little fun to the business environment, says Jason Borrevik, because you never know when you might strike up a connection thanks to having mutual, common interests with someone else. On this note, a final piece of advice is to keep yourself in check for how you frame networking: Think about who people are as individuals, not what they do. Everyone is an individual with their own story and aspirations who may want to be seen and heard.
Go the Extra Mile
Another thing you must learn how to do in order to network effectively is to serve others before yourself. It might seem counter-intuitive, but if you want to come across as likable and trustworthy, the best action plan is to focus on generosity. Don’t hesitate to let people know what you can do for them, and don’t wait to do so until after they’ve offered you something first.
On the other hand, do make your interactions and conversations about the person in front of you, and not yourself. The ability to listen intently first and speak second will gain you favor in just about anyone’s book because you took the time to give them your focus and respect. It’s completely true that some people might try to take advantage of your good nature, but at the end of the day, even they won’t have anything negative to say about you.
Finally, always try to follow up. Be proactive and take time out of your day to check in on connections you’ve made because it’s worth it to reinforce these connections if you want to build a strong network for yourself.
Enthusiasm Goes A Long Way
When it comes to the networking process, positivity is memorable. The moment you engage in conversation with anyone, you always want to bring your best, most positive self to the table. It doesn’t matter if you’re more of a loud, outspoken personality or a quieter, introspective individual; people can tell right away whether you are happy to be there or not.
Practice makes perfect, and it doesn’t hurt to practice your conversation style. There are a variety of books out there that will help you learn what exactly to say, what sorts of topics to bring up, and how to phrase it in an interesting way. Don’t forget about beginning and ending a conversation deliberately with a handshake in order to seal the deal, and keep in mind that you bring enthusiasm to the table with your appearance as well: Remember to dress professionally, because for better or worse you can make an impression in anyone’s mind before you’ve even opened your mouth.
Lastly, you need to keep in mind that networking can happen anytime and anywhere. Have an ‘always-on’ mentality with your networking and keep a keen eye for any opportunities that may arise when you least expect them.
The networking process is intricate and fast-paced, but in the end, with the right approach, you can have confidence you have built the best one possible for yourself.
Jason Borrevik graduated from the University of Oregon in 1994 with a BA in Economics before moving to California to attend law school at the University of California, Berkeley. He currently advises many leading private and public technology firms.