If you’re faced with an extremely busy schedule and increased demands in a challenging economy – you cannot spend a lot of time networking unless you get a good return on investment. Yet you find it necessary to get out and meet new people, connect and enhance relationships with current contacts and referral sources, and be out and be seen. You may not enjoy the typical “networking event,” because it doesn’t produce enough results to make the expense, time and discomfort of being around a bunch of people you don’t know, worth it.
From my experience, key activities that make it worth it your time and effort to attend an event:
• Decide what you need to achieve to make it worth attending events. Do you plan to make new contacts? If you do, do you know who specifically you’d like to meet or can you describe your target prospect? Do you wish to build relationships with current contacts or prospects by going where they go? Do you wish to achieve general visibility in larger crowds of professionals?
• Plan your month. Act purposefully. As much as possible, evaluate the events that are coming up in the next month and decide the best use of your time. Seeing some of the same people at events gives you an opportunity to deepen the relationships, but seeing them three times in the same month devalues that benefit. Plan to attend a variety of events to achieve your most important goals and stick within your budget.
• Invite people to attend with you. If they can’t go, the invitation itself is a meaningful contact and builds that relationship. If they can go, they will appreciate the opportunity, especially if it is an event of which they were not aware. It’s an opportunity to spend some time with the person you invite and introduce them to others.
• Show up early and act as a host. Stand near the door and welcome people. You can help them to feel comfortable, and have an easy conversation opener as they walk in the door.
• Move from conversation to conversation. Typically, making multiple contacts at an event will make it more worth your time. Spend 15 minutes talking to one very solid contact if that makes sense at the time, but reserve deeper conversations for a follow up meeting where they are often a better fit.
• Connect two people you know to one another. And vice versa, ask someone you know to introduce you to a contact they know and you would like to meet.
• Follow up with important contacts. I have long since stopped following up with everyone I meet. I know that some conventional networking wisdom will tell you to connect with a lot of people, not knowing who could help you/who you could help some day. Personally, I look at the return on investment of my time, am clear with where my beneficial connections will most likely lie, and spend my time there.
How about you? How do you ensure a profitable return on investment of your networking, time, energy and money?