How to get the most out of business networking – six dos and don’ts

Want to grow your business? Then get networking! Here’s six dos and don’ts to help you network for business successfully.

We’re surrounded by opportunities to network. And, in an environment that’s saturated by competitors, the connections you make through networking could lead to your next big opportunity. So don’t turn them down.

But ‘networking’ involves more than just putting in an appearance at an event. It requires more than standing shyly in the corner, or talking to the one person you know.

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Instead, think of networking as long-term investment into your future success, and make an effort to do it properly. To help you, here are some dos and don’ts to get the most out of business networking.

1) Do focus on quality, not quantity

When you’re assessing your networking success, focus less on how many people you know, the number of likes on your social media sites, or how many business cards you bring home from an event. And more on the quality of the connections you’re building.

It’s not difficult to build a ‘vanity’ network – to acquire pocketfuls of business cards, boost your social media profiles and join every local networking group going.

But how many of these connections will ever lead to more business for you? And isn’t that the key reason why you’re networking? So when you’re planning or assessing your networking strategy, don’t look at the numbers; instead focus on the quality.

Are you meeting the right people? Are you following up after events? Are you starting relationships you can nurture into something mutually beneficial?

If your time and resources are limited it’s better to attend fewer events and invest more in them, than it is to spread yourself thinly and not make the most of the connections you’re meeting.

2) Do look for mutually beneficial opportunities

Networking should be mutually beneficial – so don’t just concentrate on what you want out of any relationship. Instead, find ways you can also offer value or help your new acquaintance.

It’s often very easy to spot those people at any networking event who are simply there to further their own agenda. (They’re the ones who quickly move on from you, or start scanning the room over your shoulder, when they realise you’re not immediately useful.)

Don’t be this person. Yes, you ideally would like to leave a networking event with a helpful new connection, and possibly even the promise of new opportunities, but don’t aggressively seek these out at the cost of making genuine, mutually rewarding connections with people.

You never know where a new relationship may end up, or who the person you’re speaking with may know, so treat everyone with equal respect and interest, and find out what you can do to help them. Building goodwill will take you further than pushing your own agenda in the long term.

3) Don’t be boastful, dishonest or rude

Yes you want to make the best impression at networking events, but you won’t do that by boasting or embellishing facts. Nor by accommodating someone by telling them what you sense they want to hear.

Always be courteous, honest, open and assertive with people, and express your feelings in a professional manner. For example, if realise that the person you’re talking to has goals or beliefs that differ from or conflict with yours, don’t engage them in a heated debate – this isn’t the place. Instead, politely end the discussion and move on.

Stuck with someone boring? Excusing yourself to make a call or use the bathroom is a diplomatic way to avoid an awkward situation (and getting stuck with them for the entire event…).

4) Do really get to know people

Just because you’re attending a business networking event, doesn’t mean that the conversation has to be rigidly professional. While you’ll probably want to avoid any heated political or religious debate (see the point above), there’s no reason why you shouldn’t discuss non-business topics.

Remember that networking is about building relationships, and to achieve this you need to need to get to know people. So be interested in the person you’re talking to, and ask questions about their work, their life (if they’re comfortable with the subject – if they look uncomfortable, steer the topic back onto business again) and their interests.

If appropriate, share things about yourself too. But don’t monopolise the conversation – that’s a surefire way to alienate a new acquaintance.

5) Do refer business where appropriate

Business referrals are like karma. If you want to receive goodwill (and business introductions) you need to give them.

So if you notice any opportunities to pass on leads, recommendations or referrals to people you meet at networking events, do. You’ll be seen as a generous, genuine and useful business connection. And people will be happy to repay the favour. More than that – they’ll look for opportunities to pay back your thoughtfulness.

On the contrary, if you’re self-serving, if you are only interested in what you are getting out of any event or interaction it will quickly become obvious. And not only will people not come to you with opportunities they think are a good fit for you, they may even deliberately offer them to your competitors.

So get the wheel of reciprocation turning by initiating give and take. Look for opportunities to help the people you meet – and refer to them when you can – and you’ll soon gain a reputation as a generous and useful person to know. And your network will naturally grow with like-minded professional connections.

6) Do follow up

Lastly, make sure you follow up any new connections. After all, you made the effort to attend the event, introduced yourself to lots of people and collected a stack of business cards.

Now is the time to reinforce those relationships by following up and staying in touch through telephone calls, email or periodic in person meetings. You just might be amazed at the results networking can produce!

Jennifer Barnes is CEO and Co-Founder of Pro Back Office, a professional services firm that gives you access to highly skilled accounting, finance and operational talent.