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As you’ll know if you read my newsletters, I’m committed to business networking and attend as many events as I can manage. Or maybe you know because you’ve met me at the events.

There are many guides out there explaining the right and wrong ways to approach networking. What follows isn’t meant to be a comprehensive how-to manual – just some musings based on the wise advice I’ve had from a lot of people, as well as my own conclusions.

Network Outside the Box as Well as Inside

Networking is about building relationships, and it’s important to go back to the same networking groups and reconnect with familiar people. It’s also important, though, to make sure you’re constantly meeting new people and taking advantage of new opportunities. For that, it can be good to find different groups in different locations. And remember that business networking isn’t confined to physical meetings – it can happen on line, as well.

A Contact Is for Life, Not Just for the Meeting

Some people give up on networking because they go to a meeting and don’t walk away with offers of business. It doesn’t work like that. Making contact is just the first step in a process. Perhaps there’s someone there who doesn’t need you right now, but might in the future. Perhaps there’s someone who’s interested, but wants to get to know you a little more before giving you their business. Either way, you need to keep up the relationship and hope they’ll think of you at the right moment.

Six Degrees of Separation

Another common reaction is to look around at who’s in a meeting and decide there are no potential customers. That’s ignoring the fact that each person present also represents everyone they know, and business can come from the most unlikely sources. I’ve had business directly from people I’ve got to know at networking groups, but I’ve also had some very productive referrals to contacts of contacts – but only when the person who refers has the confidence in me to give a recommendation.

The Best Way of Selling Is Not Selling

Think about your own reaction. Are you more likely to take an interest in someone who walks up to you and launches straight into their elevator pitch, or in someone who shows an interest in you and in what you do? The people you’re talking to are just the same. Ask about them first, making it clear that you’re listening and interested, before you tell them what you do. Of course, if they’re clued up they might get in first, but in that case turn the conversation into a two-way dialogue as soon as possible.

What’s the Technical Term for a Business Card Collector?

Exchanging business cards is the beginning of the process, not the end. The most impressive file of cards means nothing if you don’t follow up your meeting and stay in touch. The same day, if possible, or next day at the latest, either drop them an email saying it was a pleasure to meet them and you look forward to further contact – and no more, unless you’re following up a particular item in the conversation – or find and connect with them on social media, such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Or all the above.

But What if You’re Called John Smith?

It can be difficult to find a specific person on social media. It’s all very well if your name happens to be Aloysius Bartholomew Cumberbatch, but think how many John Smiths there’d be to trawl through on Twitter. I’ve often given up searching for someone with even a moderately common name. I have my precise handles for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn printed on my business card, so anyone can find me, and I have links on my website to take people to my pages. You don’t want anyone to give up on searching for you, after all.

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