Networking is for making connections and renewing acquaintances. It is the first step in developing a business relationship, which may or may not eventually lead to a sale. Many sales people swear by networking as a way to find new prospects. They say that in business it’s not what you know, but who you know. However, in the independent contractor’s case it’s about both. Learn what some of the most common networking mistakes are so that you don’t end up making them.
1. Not Having a Goal – Actively networking without an objective can end up being a big waste of time and energy. You should always have a game plan before attending any networking event or meeting. Start small. It can be as simple as ‘hand out twenty business cards and collect twenty business cards from other people.’ Be confident and know what you are looking for, whether it be a client, business partner or colleague, and understand what you expect from a future relationship. Make a point to build a true connection from the start.
2. Dominating the Conversation – Sales people tend to be social extroverts who enjoy dominating the conversation. While it may just be nerves or excitement, it can often come off as arrogant or self-absorbed. Try to limit your talk time to less than half and make an effort to ask questions, as well as listen. More than likely it will give you insight and be mutually beneficial.
3. Don’t be Vague – Be specific when you tell networking contacts about your career goals, education and experience. Also, make sure you are focused so your statements aren’t vague and wordy. If you know what you want in terms of a job and professional growth before beginning your networking discussions, it will go much smoother and people will be more inclined to listen.
4. Bad Body Language and Appearance – Too many networkers run around at events handing out cards, giving a quick spiel and immediately taking off to find the next contact. Take the time to shake hands, make eye contact and hold at least a brief conversation. You’re body language should convey that you’re interested in what the other person is saying. A networking event can be a dress rehearsal for a project interview, so always look sharp and show respect in any way you can.
5. Being Unprepared – A great way to be prepared for any networking situation is by having an elevator speech. This is simply a brief description of what you do, what your services are and what your goals and specialties entail. It’s extremely useful at networking events where you will be meeting a lot of people very quickly. Get in the habit of practicing your pitch, as well as your answers about any questions about your career goals or services that may arise. Most importantly, remember to have your business cards with you at all times, as you never know when you’ll need them.
6. Not Following Up – Professional networks are like houseplants, they require continuous care and maintenance. Take the time to follow up with your new contacts after meeting them, even if it’s only a simple email letting them know that you would like to stay in touch. So, once you’ve collected all those names and business cards don’t just shove them in a desk drawer and forget about them. Get in touch with potential prospects as soon as possible and set up a time to meet. Failing to follow up after an event or initial meeting could be seriously limiting to your success.
Many contractors start networking only after they have disengaged from their current project. Effective networking means creating contacts and relationships while you’re still on contract. If you are constantly networking then your network is always in place whenever you may need it again.