Knowing how to network can open up doors and create opportunities for you and your business. Polish your networking skills and you’ll be able to identify potential collaborators, develop mutually beneficial relationships, generate leads, and expand your influence and reach.

Follow these 10 tips (and avoid these 10 mistakes) and you’ll be on your way to networking success.

10 Networking Tips:

Meet People Through Referrals

The best way to expand your network is through a referral from someone you know. That way, your mutual friend or acquaintance can put in a good word for you, connect you with someone compatible and truly helpful, and provide assurance that the person is trustworthy and reputable. But, remember to ask for referrals. Your friends and business acquaintenances are more likely to refer you if they know that you are genuinely looking for referrals. Also ask for referrals on your business card and on your website. 

Prepare Your Elevator Speech

An elevator speech is a quick explanation of who you are and what you do. It should be so concise that you could deliver in the time it would take you to ride an elevator. It should contain the most important thing that you want your contact to remember about you. Rehearse it, but don’t memorize it word for word. Adapt your ‘pitch’ depending on who you’re meeting and the environment. Sometimes a good elevator speech may be no more than your website name or address. That's why a good, concise, and clear website domain name is so important.

Do Your Homework

Before a networking event, research the people who will be there. With most in-person events you can't possibly seek out and speak to everyone. Knowing ahead of time who you would like to make contact with can be more productive. If it’s an online event, see who has marked themselves as ‘attending’. If it’s an in-person event and you don’t have access to the list, hone in on the speakers and presenters. This way, you can better prepare what you’ll say and what you’d like to know about them.

Make a Good First Impression

Meet each person with a confident smile, steady eye contact, and a firm handshake. Practice at home in front of a mirror if you’re nervous or unsure of how you come across to strangers. Do I need to mention to dress appropriately? In this day of relaxed casual dress and work-at-home attire, this still matters.

Look for Common Interests

Quickly establish something you have in common. Shared interests will build rapport much more effectively than generic small talk. This can also be a good ice-breaker. Did you go to the same school? Did you notice that he or she drives the kind of car that you widh you did? 

Ask Questions and Listen Attentively

When networking, take the focus off yourself and place it firmly on the new people you’re meeting. Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Instead, ask open-ended questions that will encourage discussion. Practice active listening: summarize and paraphrase what they’ve said, nod your head in encouragement, and really pay attention. Remembering details about them will help you during follow-up conversations.

Use Social Media

Social media offers a variety of ways to network virtually. Use LinkedIn to connect with people online, while at the same time finding and attending offline networking events. Work your way towards a one-on-one meet up, either online or in person.

Keep Your Online Presence Up to Date

Make sure your online presence is up to date, as people you meet will search for you afterwards. This includes all social media profiles and anywhere else you can be found on the internet.

Be Proactive

You can make great connections by attending networking events, seeing who’s there, and meeting people by chance. But even better, decide who you want to meet and then find opportunities to connect with them.

Get out There and Mix

Attend networking events and opportunities as frequently as your schedule will allow. The more you get out there and mix, the more you’ll establish valuable connections. Your local chamber of commerce, for instance, is usually a great way to make valuable connections.

10 Networking Mistakes to Avoid:

DON’T Network Without a Plan

Clarify your goals before you get out there and network. Decide what kind of relationships you’re looking for and how you want your new contacts to benefit your business.

DON’T Get Nervous

Everything’s going to be fine! Get into a relaxed state of mind and ready to have fun. You may want to practice some relaxation exercises before you go out.

DON’T Make Assumptions

You’re there not only to make connections, but to also learn about the people you’ll meet. Don’t make assumptions about who they are or what they do. Ask and listen.

DON’T Deliver a Boring Elevator Speech

Your elevator speech should not only tell the other person who you are and what you do, but how you’re unique and why it’s beneficial to know you. And, keep it brief. You want that person to have the opportunity to ask a question if they want to.

DON’T Stay in an Awkward Situation

If a person you meet is rude or unresponsive, don’t stick around.  Be polite, but move on to the next person. There’s nothing to gain by wasting time with someone who you won’t get along with.

DON’T Talk Too Much

You should be friendly and outgoing, but don’t dominate conversations. The best balance is to let the other person talk twice as much as you do.

DON’T Get Negative

Don’t complain about the snacks, badmouth other people, or say negative things about companies you’ve worked for. Sometimes people try to build rapport by having a common enemy. This is dangerous in a roomful of strangers – you don’t know who they’re connected to. Instead, focus on constructive and positive conversation.

DON’T Cling to People You Know

We have a natural tendency to stick with what we know and who we know. At networking events, make sure you mix with a variety of people, not just familiar faces. Approach people who are alone and draw them into conversation.

DON’T Demand Too Much from New Connections

Try to create opportunities to get in touch with new people you meet, but don’t ask too much of them at first. A networking event is not meant to be a sales pitch moment. Focus on offering something beneficial to them instead. One method is to offer a free, helpful source of information on your website, and mention it at this time. 

DON’T Forget to Follow Up

The follow up is the most important part of networking. If you want to nurture a relationship, email or direct message them shortly after the event. But, do so with some helpful information.

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