Maybe you’re not really a rock star. You’re an accountant, plumber, or insurance agent. And, though you may not wear Spandex jumpsuits or dark glasses and glitter, when you walk into a room, you need to be entertaining, engaging, and memorable—like Lady Gaga or Mick Jagger. Networking like a rock star means people stand and cheer (not literally, of course) when you slap on that name tag and walk into a crowded room. “Fans” want an encore in the form of continued business contact. A true networking rock star, ultimately, has no trouble getting his “ticket price,” in the form of connections and revenue.
Yet, so many Westchester business people struggle with how to network. Where do you strut your stuff? What should be on your playlist? How do you leave a crowd begging for more?
Here are 10 simple tips to reach the top of the charts in no time.
1. Choose your venues wisely and mix it up. Local business and alumni gatherings, conferences, and even cultural/hobby outings (like wine tastings, book groups, and gyms) can be good places to make connections. Although regular networking groups can build continuity and loyalty, try at least one new place monthly.
2. You can network anywhere…even in a parking lot. Jo Ann Burns, a Tarrytown bookkeeper, has custom-branded plates on her van. Strangers (including this writer) approach her on the street to ask about her services.
3. Network in your PJs sometimes. Online networking has become a great way to connect with prospects and influencers. Matt Schwartz of MJS, a recruiting company in Scarsdale, has 3,000+ LinkedIn connections and uses the site to meet new clients, candidates, and HR leaders. “Your second-degree connections are gold,” Schwartz says. “Connect with the people you know and trust in your first degree connections to introduce you to top prospects.”
4. View networking events as opportunities to meet—not to sell. The process is much like dating; don’t expect to get engaged on a first date. Be patient, friendly, and open—not desperate.
5. If you are shy in groups, bring along a wingman or wingwoman. A sociable sidekick can warm up leads and make introductions.
6. Use humor, ask people about themselves, and offer interesting content. Linda Rey of Rey Insurance doesn’t speak about policies and actuarial tables when she’s in public or tweeting. Her conversational repertoire includes football, fitness, and fun-filled nonfiction.
7. Only offer your business card if asked. It can be assaultive otherwise.
8. Develop a system for sorting cards you collect. Badge holders may have a back side where you can insert cards of your “A list” connections. Write notes on the backs to jog your memory. Exit long and unproductive conversations gracefully (e.g., “I‘d love to speak with some of the other people here…can we continue another time?”).
9. Follow up. Send e-mails to “A listers” within 24 hours. Connect with folks on LinkedIn, friend them on Facebook, add them to your database (with permission), and follow them on Twitter.
10. Don’t expect every event or interaction to generate immediate results. Just as Springsteen played the Stone Pony and lots of East Coast clubs long before he sold out the Meadowlands, you will need to perfect your networking gig over time and build up a fan base.