Now that our eyes are adjusting to the sunlight rather than the glow of florescent light we’ve been subjected to since early January, it’s time to get out there and start networking.
That’s right – networking!
If the thought of “networking” makes you sweat, it’s time to re-think what networking really is. It’s really pretty simple. Anytime you’re at an event or even a meeting where you don’t know someone, you have the opportunity to network. It’s about introducing yourself and getting to know someone else. At any business function, introduce yourself to somebody you don’t know. At a CPE event, introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. Attending a conference? Introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. (Noticing a theme here?)
Today I want to give you four networking tips that you can apply immediately.
- The Mindset. This involves having the right attitude, believing in yourself, having a plan, and the simplest thing of all – remembering to smile. By taking just a little time to get in the right mindset, you’ll have a lot more confidence walking into that event. And, simply smiling can make anyone more approachable! As Victor Borge once said, “A smile is the shortest distance between two people.” And what did I mean by “having a plan?” Any gathering of individuals – no matter how large or small – I view as an opportunity to meet someone and I set a goal of trying to obtain at least 5 new business cards. Make a plan or set a goal like that for yourself.
- The Preparation. As accountants, some of us tend to be more introverted, so in order to make meaningful connections, preparation is key. Preparation means doing your homework – listen, read, watch. What’s happening in the news? What’s going on in your community? What’s going on in the profession? After you have answered these questions, formulate five or six questions that you can use to start a conversation. Let’s say I’m in Cincinnati … I’d probably start off the conversation by asking someone if they’re a Reds fan and if so, what do they think of their prospects this year to win the division. An easy opener that’s sure to get the conversation going.
- The Implementation. Don’t be shy. Walk up, stick your hand out and introduce yourself. “Hi my name is…..” (I have yet to do this and have someone shriek and run away from me.) And this is important – engage them by being curious about them. Ask questions to get them talking about themselves. This is a great way to break the ice and create rapport with someone. Some conversations will be great and some may be non-starters for whatever reason, but the more people you talk to, the more likely you are to make some really meaningful connections. The key to effective implementation is to be a good listener with both your eyes and ears. I’ve actually walked away from people who were talking to me but weren’t listening to me or they were looking around the room to find others. To me, that just shows a complete lack of any genuine or sincere interest. So, if you’re not interested in continuing a conversation with someone, politely excuse yourself and move on.
- The follow-up. One of the most critical steps in just about anything we do – including networking – is following up. I like to send a handwritten “nice meeting you” card within a couple of weeks of meeting someone. I also like to forward interesting article links or something I’ve learned more about regarding their interests or their business. Sometimes I’ll pick up the phone call the person to see if we can schedule time for coffee or lunch just so we can get to know each other better.
I said I had four tips, but here’s a bonus one for you. I like to call my approach to networking – “the Godfather approach.” I always end a conversation by saying, “please feel free to contact me at any time if I can do anything for you.” Because as in the movie the Godfather, if I do this for you, someday I will come to you and ask you for a favor.”
Now get out there and start networking!