Networking is old hat to many marketing professionals, and those who have mastered the art (or practiced it many times) step into a room and work their magic. It is as if they are dancing around the floor flawlessly, designed to take charge and make friends easily.
Then, there are those of us who freeze or shiver at the thought of throwing ourselves into this type of setting. We quickly pick our seat and find refuge in our smart phones.
It doesn’t matter if you are the custodian of a billion dollars of assets or the custodian who cleans up after everyone has left the office. Belonging to a network and building relationships is human nature. So, as a business professional, networking should be a part of your professional acumen, and learning the skill is not beyond your reach.
Whether you are a first-time marketing professional or a veteran in the art, networking can be intimidating at times, requiring practice and a little bit of homework before you dive right in. The following are a few tips to consider before you work the room.
Get Involved in a Professional Community
If you are already a Legal Marketing Association (LMA) member, you may be saying to yourself, “I have been meaning to get more out of the LMA meetings,” or, “I would like to find an additional organization.” Regardless, find an organization or two that you are interested in and feel would benefit you professionally and even personally. Belonging builds trust. Nick Corcodilos of Ask the Headhunter mentions in a report that, “People trust other people they know. Why? Because getting to know you can take a long time... People who have made that kind of investment in you are usually worthy of your trust. They will refer a buddy to you - you are glad to make the new acquaintance because you are all part of the same circle.”
Before you attend a meeting for the first time, research the organization and reach out to its leaders for information. Get in touch and mention that you are interested in attending a meeting. If you decide to attend, connecting to an individual who is already immersed in the community may help ease your arrival and give it more purpose (since you are going to meet said person face-to-face). That individual will likely be happy to introduce you to someone else at the meeting.
Develop a Strategy and Have a Goal
We are all busy, so before you embark on yet another lunch meeting ask yourself why you are there in the first place. You may want to consider some sort of game plan before you attend. After all, this is an allocation of your time. Dan Woog in his article 13 Worst Networking Mistakes points out that being clueless is a common networking mistake. “If you are heading to a networking event, make sure you know why you are going there,” he said.
What is your prime objective? Is it to obtain knowledge? To establish a relationship? To help someone else? Or, is it simply to get out of the office for a luncheon because your firm is picking up the tab? Understanding why you are there and what you want to get out of it will help you justify the time you spend being where you are and doing what you are doing. Additionally, it will help maximize the benefits to you professionally and give you action items upon which to follow-up.
If you find that the organization is no longer meeting your expectations, you may need to reconsider whether it fits into your overall networking and relationship-building objectives or professional and personal growth.
Give to Get
Nearly every networking article emphasizes that networking isn’t about you. In Roy Ginsburg’s 2008 article, Networking ROI: Understanding the return on investment for legal marketers and the lawyers you help, he states, “Networking is a straightforward concept. It’s building a network of people for the purpose of mutual assistance.” Do your best not to go to a meeting with the goal of unloading your stack of business cards. Instead, add value and build relationships.
You may wonder how you can find ways to engage with whomever you meet. Contribute a good, thought-provoking question, or share a best practice at a roundtable discussion. Afraid to speak up? Approach the speaker afterwards or ask someone sitting close by with a question. Try to host a meeting, which adds value with little rhetoric on your part while enhancing the relationships in your center of influence.
It should be noted that the best listeners also make the best conversationalists. If you have ever read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, you know that people love being with others who are keenly interested in them. Therefore, while you are working on engaging yourself, remember to listen more than you speak and invest your time in getting to know more about others.
Despite your nerves, try to smile as often as you can, and above all, do your best to be yourself. Remember, networking is not about selling yourself but making relationships. If you need help meeting people, don’t be afraid to ask, and always pay it forward.
Christina Simms is a member of LMA with more than seven years of progressive marketing experience and an MBA from the University of Colorado, Denver. Feel free to ask her any questions.