One of the more common questions my clients ask me these days is, “How can I become a more effective networker?”
Often, people go to networking meeting and functions, pass out and collect dozens of business cards, and then aren’t sure where to go from there. Some of the issues I’ve heard are:
“I feel funny about following up; I don’t want to feel like I’m bugging this person.”
“I can’t remember where I met this person, but their services and web site look really interesting, and I want to connect.”
“I want to connect with this person on LinkedIn but I don’t think they’ll remember me.”
“I don’t want to waste my time and theirs if our connection doesn’t go anywhere.”
“How can I become a better networker?”
If you’re feeling stuck around how to handle your networking contacts, I invite you to try the sorting process I use. You can modify this system to make it work for you and your business or job search. The first thing you’ll need to do is to develop a sorting system. If your office drawer is full of business cards you have no idea how you came by, sorting will be very important to you. Sorting also allows you to hone in on the contacts that will benefit you the most, while weeding out those that you have less interest in pursuing.
When I go to a networking event and someone hands me a business card, I immediately hand-write on the back of the card the date I met this person, the function we met at, and something about the person that struck me. That way, whenever I look at the card I have a clear recollection of receiving it. When I get back to my desk, I sort the cards and contact information into several categories.
Contact Sphere (also called Center of Influence): These are people to whom I can envision myself referring clients in the future, or people whose businesses might potentially generate clients for me. For example, I recently added a business evaluator to my contact sphere; he’ll be a great resource for my entrepreneurial clients. Another example: if you’re a chiropractor, your contact sphere might include massage therapists, personal injury lawyers, contractors, or officers in local trades unions.
Joint Venture: These are people with whom I can see myself potentially creating a joint venture; people whose services and values complement my own. They might be potential guests on the radio show, or help me with cross-promotion.
Friendly competition: These are people in the same field or similar fields to you, with whom you might be interested in connecting. If they’re willing, these people make good resources, and can lend an objective ear when you need one.
Potential Clients: These are people who have expressed interest in my services and/or who might potentially benefit from my services.
When you get back from a networking meeting, take the time to sort the cards you’ve acquired into these four categories (or the categories you’ve developed to suit your targets). You might create a separate binder or file for each list, or make a spreadsheet. Then, decide which contacts to prioritize, and which you’re less interested in cultivating or adding to your database. (I learned this the hard way and just put everyone in my database, years later I am still cleaning it up.)
This is the first step in getting more from your networking efforts. Stay tuned for future posts on this topic.