We’ve all heard the term networking and have some vision in our mind of what it means.
It takes many shapes, the most common would “seem” to be organizational events (Chambers of Commerce, Industry Associations, After-Hours “Mixers”, etc.). Often, people have the objective of going there (quite uncomfortably) with a pocketful of business cards and the goal of handing out and collecting as many as possible before the night is out.
To me, this is NOT networking. This is trading baseball cards.
Here is (what I would consider) a perfect example of networking.
I was the coach of one of my son’s baseball teams. Naturally, I met a lot of new people (the kids / players) and their parents. Some readers may now be thinking: “Oh, I’ll bet that as soon as you got one of those parents cornered you pitched them your business.” NOPE!
Instead, I would ask: “So, what do you do?” From there, I let them talk. And, I ask questions, as I am truly interested in what people do, and I often learn something about a profession or industry that I didn’t know before. And, as they are talking, I take mental notes about how I might be able to help them (a book or article that I just read or wrote, an upcoming event they or their business may benefit from, etc.).
And, if we don’t run out of time, they will often (but not always) ask me what I do. At this point, I share just a “little” blurb about my business (my 30-second “elevator speech”), and just leave it at that. If they want to know more, they’ll ask. If not (or we run out of time) that’s it (for now).
Because they are on my baseball team, I already have their contact information…
Later, when I get back home (or when I come across information several days later that pertains to this person), I’ll send a follow-up note sharing the information that I think might help them. And, if you recall, my email signature provides my company name and website.
If you do this dozens (or hundreds) of times, you are bound to cross paths / connect with someone in need of your services.
In fact, I’m having dinner this evening (at time of writing) with the gentlemen I met in the above / baseball example who turned into a customer several years ago. He has since engaged me a few times. Just recently he asked to meet because he has “a couple of issues (a.k.a., business challenges) to discuss.”
I LOVE this!
p.s. – This is not meant to say that you shouldn’t attend networking-type “events.” If/when you do, go there to build 1-2 relationships vs. trading baseball cards.