If you're an entrepreneur who belongs to some online networking groups, chances are you have seen a message like this:
"Hello, (your name). My name is (some random person), and I'm glad that we have connected through (networking source). I have an idea about how we can build our relationship. Why don't you call me to discuss some opportunities I know you'll be interested in…"
By this point, you've stopped reading because you know that this very same message has been sent to countless other people. The sender might as well have written "GENERIC SCATTERSHOT NETWORKING ATTEMPT" across the top of the memo. You're probably even a bit miffed that this individual tried to insult your intelligence with this drivel.
As this message demonstrates, effective networking is not about making contacts. It's about establishing and building relationships which have the potential to lead to future sales or business dealings. But you have to network correctly in order for this to happen.
This axiom applies not only to e-mail or social networking, but also (especially) with phone contacts and face-to-face encounters. You know that people are bombarded with dozens of solicitations from individuals and companies each day – so how do you stand out from the crowd?
In a word: preparation.
The more time you put into researching your networking target, the more likely that he or she will remember you and be receptive toward fostering a relationship. Here are some suggestions on how to prepare yourself before meeting with a potential contact or client.
What do they love? Find out where they focus their time and energy – both professionally and personally. Peruse their profile and/or postings on social networking sites. If you're in their office, look at the photos on their desk or wall. It's easy to get people talking about what they love to do, so it behooves you to discover exactly what that is.
What have they done? Notice their accomplishments that are listed online or look at any awards or plaques they may have on display in their office. Do an online search to try and find positive statements which others have made about them. Knowing what they have achieved will set you apart from the generic overtures of others.
What do you two have in common? Pick out details from their education, work background, former employment locations, or social activities which also mirror your life experience. Talking about these shared points of interest is a good way to break the ice and also helps you begin to see how they view their life and work.
Who are your mutual acquaintances? This can mean anything from longtime friends to Facebook friends or coworkers and business associates to family members. If the opportunity presents itself, get in touch with the mutual acquaintance beforehand to learn whatever information you can about the potential contact.
What problems do they face? You can make a powerful connection if you can empathize with them about a common difficulty or obstacle they deal with regularly. Be sure to point out how you can help them overcome these challenges.
Why are you essential? Most importantly, spell out for them how you can make their work or lives easier, more efficient, and/or more profitable. If you have adequately prepared yourself, you should be able to personalize your "sales pitch" so that they will embrace your message and remember your name.
While extensive preparation is not a foolproof approach, it will boost your chances of making viable contacts and building relationships that have the potential to become fruitful. Even if you do not receive any immediate benefit, a positive first impression will stick in the minds of others – which they are more likely recall when they do need your services or expertise in the future.
So when you are networking, it is vital that you focus more on quality rather than quantity. Because hundreds of generic, sterile contact attempts will generate fewer solid relationships than a handful of well-prepared, thoughtful overtures.