What’s in Your Networking Toolbox?
My previous articles on networking described the networking mindset. This month I will discuss the tools you will need in order to be fully prepared for your networking experiences and maximize the value of each networking event for you.
Anticipate what will be needed. Remember that your goal is to find a good networking partner whom you can help and who can help you. Prepare by making it easy for people to help you. Here are the ways you can do that:
- Business cards: Keep them in a nice business card holder that separates your business cards from the cards of people you meet. Some people do this with a left pocket/right pocket strategy. Either way, you don’t want to mix your business cards with the business cards of people you’ve met. It looks sloppy when someone takes out a handful of mixed business cards and they fumble around trying to find one of their own.
- Email signature: Emails sent from your computer and smartphone should always include your complete e-signature. This should include name, company, title, email address, phone numbers, website etc. Yes, include your email address in the e-signature as well. If somebody wants to introduce you to a contact via email, it’s easy for them to cut and past this information directly into an email. Make it easy for people to help you.
- Vcard (electronic business card): Learn how to send your own vcard via email or smartphone. This makes it easy for people to import your contact information directly into their contact management program. You want to make it easy for people to get hold of you and be in touch with you.
- Namebadge: Have your own namebadge ready to wear. Some events want people to wear a nametag and some don’t. Have yours ready and if everybody is wearing one, take it out. You don’t want to get stuck with a paper name tag that sticks to your clothes and then falls off, or putting your own business card into a plastic holder that nobody can read because the font is too small. Keep it simple and easy to read. Have it in a plastic cover with a clip so it easily attaches to your clothes without pins. You can even use name badges that have a magnet to avoid ruining your clothes.
- Have a pen: When you take a person’s business card, make a note on it and let people see you do it. It could be as simple as the date or the place of the event. You can also write down the name of a person you want them to meet or something else of interest to that person. Either way, it’s a nice personal touch and people like it. It shows you care. Remember that people want to do business with someone they like and trust.
- Center of Influence (COI) list: Have your list of COI’s ready in case somebody asks how they can help you. I like to email people a list of my referral sources if they are truly interested, because it makes it easy for them to help me. Ask people who they want to meet. Be the first person to provide an introduction to a COI or networking partner.
- Follow-up strategy: It’s best to follow up with people within 24 hours of meeting them, so that the introduction is still fresh in their mind. Follow up using email, or a phone call, or even sending a handwritten card. A card may be old school technology, but some people do this and it’s a nice personal touch. Mention something about that person specifically when you contact them, to make it more personal.
- Contact information management: Develop a system, or use software, to get the information from business cards into your contact management system. Nobody likes to type this information into their computer, so find something that works for you. There are various OCR readers that scan business cards, or you can use free apps like Cardmunch. You don’t want to keep a stack of business cards that you never look at again. That defeats the whole purpose of networking!
Spend a little time on the technological aspects of these tips and find people to help if that is what is needed. Taken together, these tips offer a way for you to be better organized, more relaxed, easier to help, and more able to focus on the people you meet and building relationships with them.
Use these tips the next time you attend a networking event and see how effective it is for you. Post your experience using these techniques and tips on the blog so we can all share in your experience.
Edited by Meg Buck