Our mission at Relationship Science is to help organizations and business professionals use their relationship networks to succeed. We illuminate who in your network is best positioned to make an introduction, provide a referral, or help you secure an opportunity. But how do you build a solid network in the first place? We surveyed over 80 founders, CEOs, and other business leaders about the best networking tips they’d received. Here’s what we learned.
1. Be a Giver
The most consistent theme we heard was the importance of networking reciprocity. 20% of leaders surveyed mentioned generosity-related networking tips.
“Give before you get,” said Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a marketing consultancy for start-ups. “Networking is…not a one-way street. People do business with people they like, trust, and respect, so signal early that you are a giver not a taker.”
Amanda Ponzar, CMO at Community Health Charities, highlighted the importance of doing favors for your connections. “Keep a list of every person you network with and think of a way you can do something for them,” she said.
Steve Pritchard, Founder of Cuuver.com, observed that offering something in return gives people you’re trying to network with “a reason to communicate with you.” He also recommends that you “prepare evidence of how you’ve helped others” in order to support your networking efforts.
Successful networkers know how to provide value to their contacts, not just take from them. The next time you reach out to request a favor, consider offering something in return. Use a service like RelSci to research your contact’s background and interests to understand what you have that they might value.
2. Do Your Research
Successful networkers follow the Scout Motto: Be Prepared. They know that it’s much easier to be successful at a networking event when you’ve done your research beforehand.
Clayton Miller, VP of Business Development at Revolution Recycling, told us, “The best networking tip I ever got was to go into any event (meeting, party, tradeshow) with a plan. Try to get a sense of who will be there and come up with a list of who you must speak to before you go. Do your research on the attendees and know your audience.”
“Knowing who is attending an event and who you most want to talk to…will help you truly maximize a networking opportunity,” said Jon Brodsky, Country Manager (USA) at finder.com. He recommended identifying connections to the people you’d like to meet in advance, or reaching out on LinkedIn. If you’re able to introduce yourself before the event, he said, the meeting doesn’t feel as cold.
In addition to providing critical background information on people you’re looking to meet, RelSci highlights any relationships you have in common with them. Research attendees in RelSci to identify people in your network who can introduce you in advance of the event. This advance prep work will give you a leg up on your competition and help you make the most of each networking event you attend.
3. Find a Personal Touch
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that networking is all about talking business. Many of the leaders we spoke to mentioned networking tips about the importance of finding a personal connection.
William Doepp is Co-Founder and CEO of marketing agency Simple Digital. He told us that the best networking tip he’s received is to ask questions that help you get to know your conversation partner as a person. “Maybe I learn their dog’s name, their favorite wine, or their upcoming trip to Asia. The goal is not to learn about their title, but what makes them them.” Doepp uses the insights gained from these conversations to follow up in memorable ways. “If I know the owner has two new puppies, I’ll bring a small bag of gourmet treats to our next meetup. If the restaurant owner I know loves Justin Timberlake, I’ll hook her up with tickets,” he said.
Wendy Ann Payne, CSA, CEP®, Founding Partner of Centurion Wealth Management, LLC takes the personal touch even further. She integrates networking into one of her favorite hobbies – line dancing. “Not only have I met some amazing people, many of whom are now great friends, but I have made some fantastic business connections from relationships that began on the dance floor,” Payne told us. “And yes, many of my line dancing friends have become financial planning clients as well.”
RelSci’s profiles may not tell you if your networking partner enjoys line dancing, but they do provide a good sense of what makes people tick. The memberships, board participation, and donations sections are particularly useful when you’re trying to understand how someone spends their time outside of work.
4. Be a Good Listener
When you’re trying to sell yourself or your product, it can be tempting to talk yourself up. The expert networkers we spoke to recommended resisting this temptation. Many had received networking tips about listening and asking good questions.
Rob Kessler, CEO of Million Dollar Collar, mentioned advice from one of his early mentors. “Avoid being a ‘Me-Monster,’” he told us. “Too many people go to networking events and talk about themselves. It’s no way to build a relationship.”
Stuart Ridge, CMO at Vitamedica, told us, “People like to talk about themselves and will feel more connected after talking with you about something personal that is important to them.”
Amanda Ponzar of Community Health Charities said that listening well can help you appear more genuine. “People can see through the fake networkers – those who are only after a sale or job,” she said. “The best networking tip is to really take interest in and care about people.”
5. Always Follow Up
Networking events can be exhausting. But the work of networking isn’t done when the event is over. Business leaders shared networking tips about the importance of following up after an event to keep the conversation going.
Jon Brodsky of finder.com stressed that “Networking goes beyond the first meeting. To get value out of the relationship you need to keep yourself top of mind. Send them a follow up note, add them on LinkedIn, drop them a line when you see them doing great work. Relationship maintenance is more important than saying hello.”
Paige Arnof-Fenn of Mavens & Moguls agreed that following up is critical. “Send an email or note after a meeting. Include a personal comment, link, or article they might enjoy to show you heard them and have been thinking about them. It is a great way to make a strong impression and stand out.”
It’s often difficult to figure out a good time to follow up. RelSci’s News and Alerts provide a valuable tool to keep tabs on your network and find the right excuse to reach out. Subscribe to alerts on your contacts or other people of interest and learn when they make the news, receive a promotion, or join a board. If you’re trying to reach someone more junior level, consider following an industry or business topic your contact cares about. You’ll receive shareable updates and can reach out with content you know they will find interesting.