Today, more and more people are getting an A for attending networking functions, but an F for the actual work they’re putting in at the office or their own business. “I’ve definitely seen an increase of people spinning their wheels networking,” says Nader Anise, a South Florida-based Attorney & Legal Marketing Strategist.
Many people think networking is about attending as many events as possible, giving your elevator pitch, thrusting a business card in someone’s hand and moving on to the next prospect in under a minute. As a society, multi-tasking, immediate gratification and superficial social media relationships have become the norm. You might think this approach would work. But it doesn’t.
“It was crazy to me when I was consulting with someone and they would tell me they didn’t have time to put out a newsletter, but they were sitting on various boards and attending several events per week all in the name of networking,” says Karen Yankovich, CEO of Uplevel Media in Florida and New Jersey. “Done wrong, networking can be a detriment to your business.”
The key to effective networking, and striking a balance between networking and producing, starts well before any event. “Hold yourself accountable regarding how many networking opportunities you commit to each week,” says Tali Raphaely, President of Armour Title Company in Miami. “Networking has many benefits, but it can quickly begin to eat up the time you have in a day for getting your actual work done. Find out as much as you can about each event in advance and decline offers that don’t seem worthy of your time.”
“People will smell it if you don’t know what you’re talking about, says Michael Wild. “Sizzle is great but you must have the steak behind it.”
You should also evaluate if your target market is going to be at the event, what the turnout has been like at past events, and the format and agenda of the event. “Networking is just one ingredient in the mix,” says Hailey Yatros, a professional speaker on multi-generational workplaces. “But if you add too much of it and not enough delivery, you’ll mess up the recipe. You have to be really careful with how much time you network vs. the amount of time you invest in the meat of your product.”
If you make the decision to go to an event, go prepared and go with a plan. “If you’re prepared, the opportunities come, but if opportunity comes and you aren’t prepared, you are screwed,” says Yatros. That means that if you can talk the talk, but can’t walk the walk, none of the networking is going to matter. You have to actually deliver if you land the business. “The goal of networking is to get hired and then wow them. That’s all about your delivery and that is networking in itself,” continues Yatros. “I’ve had so many people call to hire me because they were referred to me by someone who saw me speak. My past clients effectively networked for me.”
One way to strike a balance between networking and work is to have a niche. “If I was a general attorney, I could never network the way I do,” says Michael Wild, Owner of WFP Law and a prominent Miami networker. “I know my specialty inside and out. People will smell it if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Sizzle is great, but you must have the steak behind it.”
Whether you’re an employee or an entrepreneur, you were taught throughout school that your network is imperative to your success, and networking is just something you have to do. Unfortunately, no one ever taught you how to really do it. The key to success is to re-categorize networking as sales. Sales is a process that is built on relationship-building. Remember, people do business with people they like, not someone who they met for 30 seconds and didn’t let them get a word in edgewise. Most people fail because they go in with a “me, me, me” attitude. Instead of wondering what the other person can do for you, think about what you can do for them. “It’s essential to develop rapport and discuss your mutual interests,” explains Anise. “Ask questions and really listen to what the other person is saying. The key is to find where your interests overlap.”
If after the conversation, you feel there’s a good connection, it’s imperative to follow-up. In the next few days, send a link to an article you think they might find valuable, connect them with someone else they know, or follow-up on something you talked about at the event. The point is to start building a relationship that hopefully will eventually result in business. Be the tortoise, not the hare, when it comes to networking. “Don’t get it wrong, networking is still important, but you need to look at your industry and understand how much networking is called for,” advises Yatros.
Case in point: Say that an executive is looking for a new role. Suzanne Garber, Miami-based Author of Safety Network: A Tale Of 10 Truths Of Executive Networking interviewed 100 C-level individuals and found that 90% found their current executive position through networking. For individuals looking to make a job change, investing the time in networking at the expense of their daily work might actually make sense. “The person may not be as productive to their company during this time — but from an individual perspective, they could be very productive because most people find a job through their network,” she says.
Entrepreneurs are another group where networking is imperative. “If I’m not hunting, I’m not eating,” says Wild. “I spend about 5 hours a day networking, but I also spend a solid 8 hours doing my actual work. I’ve always resented people who’ve said, ‘Oh, you’re always networking, you must not be a good attorney.’ They are not mutually exclusive.”
Like other successful networkers, Wild is very discriminating in terms of the events he attends and only goes to places his best referral sources also frequent. And then it’s all about him offering value to the other person through connections. After each networking event, he adds the two or three people he connected with to his mailing lists and social media accounts, and reaches out to schedule a coffee or lunch meeting.
Like everything in life, it’s all about balance. Networking is an important part of business, and if done correctly, can be very effective. Learn the tricks of networking and you’ll maximize your time both at the office and at the after-work mixer.