Networking is important, we all know that. We need to meet people to advance whatever agenda we are working on. Networking is the buzzword of this century. You hear it everywhere. It means to interact with each other to exchange information and develop contacts.
You’ve been to networking events. Usually there’s time to sit and visit, maybe have a cocktail. Then there’s a program of some sort. Finally you either go to work, or you go home. Maybe you’ve exchanged business cards with someone. You’ve probably made small talk, talked about the latest sporting event, or discussed some political thing. You may have even asked the ever popular question “what do you do?”
In small towns you probably know 70% of the people (or more) at the events. You usually end up sitting or standing with the people you know. There’s little actually networking, because you’re talking to the people who you already know. It’s uncomfortable mingling with people you don’t know.
Networking is based on a secret: networking should be about how can I help you.
Go into the business of meeting people with the idea of how can you help that person. What do you know (or who do you know) that would be of assistance to this person?
So when you attend a networking event and you visit with someone you know, try asking them a question like “what you have you been working on lately?”
Here are some other questions that spark conversation and lead to ways you can help someone:
- Is there an area in your business that you’d like to grow?
- Do you or your employees volunteer at any events in the community (why or why not)?
- What kind of employee do you want to hire?
- If you could help this town grow, how would you do it? What kind of projects would you be willing to help with?
- Is there a project you’re working on that you could see me or my business possibly helping you with?
If you can introduce yourself to someone you don’t know – and I recommend you try to do that before talking to the people you know – please do that. Tell them who you are, where you work and then ask them who they are and where they work. Then repeat the steps above starting with “what have you been working on lately?”
The real idea is to remember the answers. If you know someone who can help them, please do make an introduction. And don’t just say “you should meet, Tom Jones, he can help you.” You can call, or email Tom Jones, and say “Tom I want you to meet Mr. X, he’s working on this project I think you’d be interested in. You can reach him at this email or this phone number. Why not reach out to him? Be sure to tell him I sent you.”
Write down what you’re going to do.
You think you’ll remember it, but I promise you won’t. So if you get their business card, write it on the back. Or carry a small notebook and write it down. Then be sure to actually do it.
This is how you build relationships. You help people. Connect people to each other. We are meant to help each other, and small town people do this better than most. When we remember to do it.