Do you like networking? Some people love it. I am not one of them. I’d much rather be on my couch watching Netflix with my fat, fluffy dog, Brady, than waltzing around a cocktail party, shaking hands and flinging out business cards like they’re frisbees on a college campus.
And yet, that’s exactly how I grew my first business from $12,000 a year to the Inc. 5000 list.
Everyone wants to succeed — and succeed quickly — but the truth is that who we know really matters in life and in business. And, until we can send our digital avatars to interact with each other on our behalf, we still have to show up and meet people in order to expand our networks and take advantage of this effect.
To that end, if you want to maximize your networking, consider these tips I’ve learned over the years:
1. Go crazy.
Nobody remembers a boring person, but they do remember the one who wore bright orange shoes, insisted on dancing with every new person they met, or otherwise made a lasting impression. The professional environment can be stuffy, so everyone will naturally gravitate to the person who’s just the right amount of crazy. A friend of mine actually does wear orange shoes, and now he has become known for it (people actively seek out the dude with orange shoes). What are your orange shoes that people will remember you by?
2. Relax and stay a while.
One of the most esteemed Ivy League professors I’ve met told me that people who drink more and stay longer at events make the most (and most meaningful) connections. The rationale: As people leave, the circle gets tighter and tighter, so you spend more time with who’s left. Why drink more? Because having a drink or two naturally loosens people up and makes them more chatty (just be safe and don’t drink and drive). When you stick around, you will develop deeper relationships with a core group, which is always the way to effectively expand your network.
3. Be prepared.
Go into every event knowing what you’re looking for, and let that guide your talking points. This is different from telling everyone your elevator pitch. Instead, it means being prepared with one key question, like, “What’s one thing you’re needing right now?” and being prepared to answer that question in return. If you go just to meet random people, you might miss the opportunity to steer conversations your way. For example, I might go into a networking event with my book in mind. In that case, I’m going to try to steer each conversation toward books, and then casually drop that I’m writing one and see where the conversation goes from there. Otherwise we might talk about cats all night, which is not exactly useful for my business needs.
4. Get up and go.
In life, timing is everything. The event you miss because you don’t feel like going might be the one where you would have met a person who changed your business trajectory. Or, maybe it would have been a flop — but you can’t know unless you go. Repetition is important; the more people see you, the more they associate you with someone on the scene who is important to know. So, even if you’re clinging to your dog and the remote control, remind yourself that most people choose to remain on the couch and that’s why most people never reach their dreams.
Networking is human psychology 101. It doesn’t take a PhD to be good at it. Just show up, be memorable, prepare well, stay a while and keep at it. No matter what technology we adopt, humans are humans. Don’t discount the role that networking can play in growing your business.