Since I’m an old dog when it comes to the working world, I want to share my top 5 no-fail, no-bull networking tips that have worked for me for over 20 years.
1. Avoid burning bridges.
What do I mean by that? There’s another old saying that goes hand-in-hand here: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. People tend to remember the negative about a situation. One of the earliest lessons I learned working in a local Houston department store in my teens was that one negative customer experience would be shared ten times. A positive one? Yeah, right, those are rarely shared. Bottom line, keep the bridges open if at all possible. You never know when you’ll meet that person again in the future!
2. Always carry a business card.
I started carrying my own business cards or personal “calling” cards while I was still in graduate school. I didn’t have any letters after my name, so I kept them simple. My business cards were printed on a nice linen grain, with a slightly raised print. Call me a card snob, but I have never used the tear-off cards that you can print at home. If you’re going to give them away to someone who’s a potential network contact, at least have them professionally done. With companies like Vistaprint and Moo Cards, there are so many inexpensive options from which to choose!
What should you put on your card? Name, position (my first one had “Graduate Student”), contact information (at minimum, email and phone number). I had a different email address printed on my personal “calling” cards which made it easier to differentiate the contact, just in case my own memory failed me.
I know I can reach back into my old-fashioned Rolodex or email directory over the years and find someone I met in a meeting or on a plane. My business card collection reflect over 20 years of making connections professionally and personally. They reflect where I’ve lived, worked and shopped. I’ve looked through them many times over the years, usually for referrals to friends who were unfamiliar with that city or state or country. So if I do get your business card, it’s likely I’ll keep it as a referral for someone else, if not for myself.
*Use your smartphone camera and a swift program like Evernote to keep track of cards you receive. This prevents you having to hunt for “that person” later on down the line if you organize it up front. I confess though, I do have a huge old-fashioned Rolodex with 20 years of cards collected. I’ll go through them sometimes and toss the ones I know aren’t “in service” i.e. business closed down.
3. Make time to network.
This is most challenging for introverts like me. If I sign up for a conference, I really do want to get the most out of the speakers. However, as a former conference planner, I know the truly valuable piece of any conference is in the networking time. A skilled planner will effectively build in a couple of breaks, enough for people to grab a coffee, make a call, network with other attendees. Nothing irritates me more than feeling rushed between conference sessions. You can’t do much besides stand up and stretch for five minutes but you can break bread in ten or fifteen.
4. Feed your network.
Share information, don’t horde it! Practically speaking, sharing means caring. If your professional network has a Facebook page, a Linked In group, or a Twitter party, join in! The more you put yourself out there, people will take notice. I’ve received client referrals simply because I took time to answer a question. My personal policy: If it takes me less than two minutes to answer a question, I’ll answer it.
5. Keep Thank You notes in your briefcase or bag.
A mentor told me this little nicety years ago, when I was heading to graduate school. She said “it’s a nice touch to leave your card, even a business card, and a tip to the person who’s cleaned your hotel room for the last few days.” Everyone likes to be thanked once in a while, even if it’s just for doing their job.
And those, dear ones, are my top 5 favorite networking tips. Do you have some you’d like to share?
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