For the novice, getting dressed in a business-casual outfit, grabbing a handful of business cards and showing up to an event is about the extent of what “networking” means. But those in the know familiarize themselves with proper etiquette around what to do before, during and after an event that will keep it from being a colossal waste of time.
Choosing a meeting
Perhaps the most important part of successful networking is starting with the right choice. Give yourself time to look through all the options in your area (see “Networking Roundup” on page 6 for an overview of women’s networking groups in B.C.) and try out several before settling on one or two to join or visit.
Monika Becker, founder of Clear Directions Coaching, has been networking for almost a decade and regularly attends five networking groups, including eWomenNetwork and the Professional Women’s Network.
“I look for a genuine interest of participants to help one another, an education component, fun and the quality of exposure for me and my business,” says Becker. “The results I want are quality relationships and/or connections that lead to personal or professional growth and business opportunities.”
Adding another perspective, Marilyn Anderson, a consultant in research and customer experience management, thinks from the point of view of her clients.
“I look for events with new information from solid, verifiable sources, attended by people who could be good connections for my clients, business colleagues and friends. My intention is to network with purpose – something to learn and someone to meet – and without expectation.”
Sue Ferreira, founder of Wisdom to Wealth Mastery, cautions against joining groups that have become stale.
“I look for a group that is alive and active,” she says. “Many groups settle into a routine and become social occasions, with little interest in business.”
Christine Bennet-Clark, who trains entrepreneurs in using Facebook ads, created her own “mastermind” – a group of networkers who spend time working on individuals’ business problems – knowing women face different challenges and look for different kinds of support.
“Look for opportunities where you can be with women and discuss challenges and successes at a much more personal level without feeling judged for talking about baby and family issues that so often are a part of business experience,” she says. “You can network profitably as well as be authentic.”
Lee-Ann Frances Bates, managing director of eWomenNetwork Vancouver Metro, focuses on the importance of choosing a group that aligns with your values.
“Build relationships from a place of serving and focus on creating a referral community,” she says. “Always set an intention for each meeting, and the fortune is in followup, so leave with clear actionable steps and follow through.”
Prior to going
Once you’ve selected a meeting, the next step is preparation.
“In advance of the event, I research the presenters, review their websites, blogs and social media accounts, connecting where possible,” says Anderson. “If the list of attendees is public, I will review it for people I know and for people I know about, whom I haven’t met yet and with whom I would like to connect.
“In my experience, the biggest mistake I see people make is to be unclear on their purpose. Knowing whom you are looking for (e.g., someone from a specific type of business, someone with a particular role or expertise, someone who would be a good prospect or a great prospective source of referrals) is a great advantage.”
Laura Kassama, who runs a virtual administration agency, takes her pre-meeting preparation seriously.
“Be prepared so you don’t make a bad first impression,” says the self-described shy extrovert. “Have your elevator pitch, know your ideal client and don’t be afraid to stick your hand out and say hello.”
Lisa Niemetscheck agrees that having an elevator pitch ready is key, if only to be able to easily introduce yourself, especially if you struggle with confidence.
“Go with a goal” to meet someone in a certain sector, says Niemetscheck, director of fundraising for the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs. “Find the person you need to talk to; Google them so you can have an informed conversation. It shows you’ve done prep work and you respect that person’s time.”
At the event
By far the biggest mistake people make at a networking event, according to seasoned networkers, is having the wrong mindset – going around a room passing out business cards simply to sell. Exchanging business cards is still the norm, but emphasis is now placed on proper engagement.
“People make the biggest mistake of going networking and trying to sell to people,” says Jocelyne Devisser, who teaches business owners basic financials. “People need to know, like and trust you before they will do business with you.”
Do your best to make real connections with people, says Becker, who is a life and business coach. “Take your time to get to know them. Listen really well and genuinely seek to understand what the person you are talking to is offering, what she/he is looking for and who they are as a person/business owner.
“Be a professional and treat them with the genuine interest, respect and curiosity everybody deserves. It’s not only the right thing to do; it’s also very effective.”
Francesca Anastasi is a leadership and business consultant, trainer and mentor. She organizes the Magnificent You conference in the Lower Mainland. A networker since 2002, she regularly attends eWomenNetwork and Valley Women’s Association events. Her experience is that many people at networking events appear desperate.
“Don’t use cliché words and phrases when talking about your business,” says Anastasi. “Be more interested in connecting with people and how you can support each other rather than networking with the sole goal to pitch and land clients, as that approach drives people away and makes you look desperate and unprofessional.”
Certified holistic wellness coach Debra Jang approaches networking events as opportunities to develop relationships, “not necessarily to get business from the event, although it would be nice if it happened on the spot,” she says.
“During the event, have an open mindset to learn from others and help others without expectations. When the opportunity comes up, ask for referrals to people, gatekeepers or influencers who work with your ideal clients. Show up regularly. When you become known for your expertise, that’s when the magic happens.”
Jennifer Henczel, founder of Connect Now Business Network, has promoted more than 400 networking events. She agrees that the first step is a positive mindset.
“In the world of networking, if you look for obstacles, you’ll find them – but if you look for opportunities, you’ll also find an abundance of them,” says Henczel. “Choose to maintain a positive mindset in all your interactions. Networking works when you strive for meaningful connection, not a quick fix.”
Henczel also addresses the challenge of running into other networkers who are selling the same product or service.
“If you feel someone is a competitor, find a way to do a joint venture with them, rather than feeling threatened by them. You’ll be amazed at how it makes you feel, and at the results. When you are your authentic self, there is no competition. Each person brings unique and valuable gifts to the table.”
After the meeting
Before you even leave an event, there is proper etiquette to follow, according to technical writer Pam Drucker, who has been networking for 12 years.
“Say a personal thank you to the host or sponsor for inviting the group into the space, to the speaker for their time and to your new connections – they will feel appreciated.”
Drucker also suggests sharing photos, comments and followup information in the event’s public forum.
“Understand that your small actions will ripple across your network,” she says.
Marketing and technology strategist Shannon Peel has tried more than a dozen groups in the Lower Mainland and still belongs to two that she attends regularly.
“After the meeting, send a quick email saying you are glad you met and look forward to seeing them at the next meeting,” says Peel. “Suggest they connect with you on social media and provide links to your profiles. Once connected on social media, engage with them by commenting on their posts. This will help you get noticed and show them that you are interested in getting to know them.
“If you feel comfortable, ask if they want to connect over coffee. The whole purpose of networking is connecting with people, so offer different ways to stay connected with you. The best way to create connection is to keep going to the group, engage in conversation, ask questions and get to know each other.” ç