Have you ever felt out of place attending a holiday networking event? Do you look for a friendly face and then stick with that one person during the entire event? Do you immediately head for the cookie table to calm your nerves? Would you prefer building a network online than in person? Building a professional network is crucial to business success and during the holidays, there are many opportunities. People usually do business with people they like and the holidays provide some great networking opportunities.
Here's a list of what to think about BEFORE you go to an event to make sure that your net is working!
Ask yourself - Who do I need to connect with and where can I find them?
A strategic connection is a win/win connection which will lead to developing win/win relationships. Business people prefer win/win relationships over win/lose. If a relationship is win/lose, eventually one person will get tired of putting in effort with nothing in return. People like to think WIIFM (what’s in it for me).
Every business should have a business development plan, a strategy for maintaining and/or growing a healthy business. Build your network with a focus on business development.
Who do you need to meet to grow your business? Who are your potential customers? Where do your customers hang out?
Manage your introductions
Always approach a person with a smile on your face and make eye contact. Your visual language screams volumes about you! It only takes a few seconds to make a first impression and you want your visual image to be professional.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Extend your hand and offer a firm handshake, not a wimpy wet fish handshake. Speak clearly and be articulate.
“Hi, I’m Regina Clark with Creative Performance Solutions. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” The other person will say, “I’m Harry Smith with XYZ Bank, it’s nice to meet you also.” Then repeat their name. “Harry, I have a friend in Ohio named Harry. It’s a great name.”
Repeating a person’s name will help you remember their name. If the name is unusual, ask the person if you are pronouncing their name correctly. No one likes to be called the wrong name. If you forget a person’s name, be honest and ask again.
Become a conversationalist
Learn how to engage in a conversation with anyone, anywhere. Start every conversation with an open ended question. An open ended question encourages conversation, it cannot be answered with a yes or no answer.
What brings you to this event tonight?
I’m new to this group, what can I expect from my membership?
What kind of business are you in?
What do you think of those (Yankees, Steelers, Patriots, Giants)?
Tell me about your business?
What's one of your favorite holiday memories?
If you can’t think of an open ended question, try using a compliment.
That’s a beautiful pin, is it a family heirloom?
That was a really good question that you had for the speaker.
I love your tie, are you in the habit of picking out wild ties?
That's one of the ugliest Christmas sweaters that I have seen, where did you find it?
The idea is to get the other person talking. People love to talk about themselves. If you are not familiar with what the other person is talking about, ask a clarifying question. For example:
“I don’t know much about LEAN, what exactly is it?”
“I don’t work in the healthcare industry, what is value based care?”
During a conversation, be present. Stay focused on the person you are speaking with. Make mental notes of their likes, dislikes and opinions. Later on, record the information that you have learned.
Work the room
When you want to move on and work the room, say “It was really nice meeting you. Do you have a business card? I’d like to stay in touch.” Sincerely thank the person and move on.
Limit your eating & drinking
It's never a good idea to over indulge at a business function. You want to be memorable for the value that you bring to an organization and the work that you do, not for the lamp shade on your head during the holiday party! Save your silliness for your family and closest friends.
It’s the little things that make a big impression. Following up with a new contact is very powerful and most people don’t do it! Ways to follow up:
Suggest meeting for lunch/coffee
Connect on LinkedIn
Send an email
Send a holiday card
Send a book
Visit the business/office
Invite the new contact to attend an event
Be consistently visible
In order to build your network you have to attend events. As soon as you stop attending, people will forget about you and meet somebody else who does what you do or sells what you sell.
Connect on a Social Network
LinkedIn is a social network for professionals. If you are not actively participating in Linked In, you should be. It’s an easy way to stay current with your clients/customers. You can also post article which will help your visibility on the site.
Strategic: Know who you are connecting with. Join groups that are tied to your business message. Be active in groups. Use your contact list as a place to start. Your Linked In profile is like a business brochure. Quality not quantity.
Open networking: Lots of connections. Having lots of connections is like throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing if anything sticks.
Searching Linked In is a great way to find customers in your target market. It is also a great way to find out what you have in common with a person who you are about to meet.
There are so many organizations looking for volunteers, especially during the holidays. When you volunteer for Toys for Tots, Catholic Charities, local food banks or other organizations, you will meet like minded individuals who might be able to help you in the future. Remember, what goes around, comes around.