By Jim Wong, CPA | March 29, 2017

“A simple hello could lead to a million things.” –Unknown

Even the most experienced business professionals can admit that networking isn’t usually their favorite aspect of their career. However, most will agree that it’s essential for building lasting business relationships.

In fact, no matter what point you’re at in your career—whether you’re looking for a new role, are looking for new business, or simply want to build your network—you’re bound to find a networking opportunity in your market to attend.

So, how exactly should you approach those networking events?

It’s important to leverage best practices when meeting like-minded professionals in your industry—so that you can get the most out of the time, energy and resources spent on going. You want to be successful in your networking endeavors, whatever that means for you and your personal goals. The best networkers are the people who practice and prepare for networking events with diligence.

I recently conducted a workshop for our team to discuss best practices for networking. I decided to share a few of those tips in the 4 Best Practices for Networking below.

1. Treat networking like a contact sport. 
Networking can be intimidating for some people. It’s easy to sit back and wait for other networkers to come up and talk to you. However, often times, you’ll need to be the first person to initiate the contact. When you do so, you want to look approachable. A good tip is to be aware of your body language—are you smiling? Are your arms crossed? Are you making eye contact? These behaviors typically indicate a friendly demeanor which makes for a more comfortable conversation. It’ll also make it easier to engage with others and for others to engage with you.

2. Take pride in your appearance. 
Dressing professionally is a seemingly simple first step when it comes to attending a networking event, but requires attention. While it’s important to dress professionally, there are certainly exceptions. For example, at a golf event, attendees should dress appropriately for golfing. Additionally, some networking events will make note of their preferred attire at times, such as tie optional. If there are no notes given, it is best practice to dress in business-professional attire i.e. suit and tie for men, and for women, dress/business suit.

3. Focus on helping others.
Perhaps the most important tip when it comes to networking is find ways to help others first and this starts with listening. Showing that you’re genuinely interested in what others have to say, and figuring out ways to be a resource for others, is a great way to connect and make meaningful connections. This is the core of a good networking event—building lasting professional relationships and finding ways to help others. [See No. 5 for more on helping others.]

4. Have your elevator pitch ready. 
As I mentioned, networking requires some pre-planning and preparation. Having a brief rehearsed statement that speaks to your skills and accomplishments ready when prompted is important when walking into a networking event. It gives you the peace of mind of knowing how to talk about yourself and your business with more ease. I recommend a short elevator pitch that concisely covers the most important details of your career. That way, when someone asks what you do, you won’t hesitate to come up with a response and will immediately come across as polished and professional.

5. Follow up soon after. 
In order to nurture a connection you’ve made at a networking event, or to follow through on No. 3, promising to help a fellow attendee you met at an event, it’s best to follow up with a note either through email or social media soon after. In an email, let them know you’re following up and mention something specific about the conversation you had. If you’re making an introduction to someone else, forward that person’s contact information to them. This added step will show that you are accountable and trustworthy. On social media, connect with the person on LinkedIn with a custom message. Ask them to meet with you for coffee or lunch in the near future. Following up promptly after the networking event, typically within a week, is best.

Do you have any other networking tips to add? Comment below and let us know.

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