Networking: Think Depth not Breadth

Trade show season is upon us. Do you have a plan? Is it to find new products? Attend a class or two? If you don’t have networking on your list, then you’ve missed an invaluable opportunity.

When you approach networking with your peers at these shows, don’t just meet, shake hands and walk-off. Engage them. Find out exactly what services they provide. Are they the same as yours? If so, talk to them about your joint interests.

Developing meaningful relationships will benefit you and the person you meet more than trying to see how many business cards you can collect during the show. Think depth instead of breadth. You don’t have to relive childhood embarrassments with your new found friend, but the more you get to know the other person, the more meaningful that relationship will become. You, and he, will feel more comfortable reaching out once you get home and find yourself in need of advice.

Make A Plan

Different people have different reasons for networking: some just genuinely want to make new friends with no rhyme or reason; some go to a trade show wanting to gain a specific skill or knowledge; and some need more information about products. If you have something specific that you are looking for, then try to contact people who can help you gain that information. If you know specifically what you want, then people can help you get it.

If you break out in a cold sweat at the thought of walking up to a stranger and talking, then picture them naked. I’m just kidding. It wouldn’t be appropriate to either gawk or laugh when trying to introduce yourself. Start with easy questions to break the ice, and make sure you are giving them your full attention. It’s easy to be distracted at trade shows. But, it doesn’t leave a good impression if you ask someone something, and then look around the room. Remember that you are meeting someone who is very similar to you and who is probably just as nervous.

Follow Through and Follow Up

Follow up once you’re home. Since you’ve been away from work, you may have a million things to catch up on, but take the time to send those contacts an email saying that you enjoyed getting to know them, or talk to them, or learn about their business. If you are on social media, see if they are too and connect with them that way.

Networking is about expanding your social circle. It’s about helping others when they need it and having others to help you. Your network can help you when you have a problem that you can’t solve. They can tell you about new products, services, and processes that can aid you in your business.

Just like when you make a new friend, because really that is what you are doing, there is an etiquette. If you meet someone at the conference and have already promised to share information, then do so. If they wanted to know what routing software or special technique or product you use, then make sure to follow up with them once you are home to send them that information.

Add them to your holiday card list, or if they are in your vicinity, ask them to lunch. If they provided you with information, then send them a thank you note, or give them a call to let them know how their information helped you. Just remember when you call, to note different time zones. If you are on the east coast and call someone on the west coast at 9 a.m. your time, then they may not appreciate the thank you as much. You may not think that this will happen, but I’ve had people return my calls at 5 a.m.

Mutual Benefit

Like any friendship, it needs to be mutual. You wouldn’t want the only contact you have with someone to be when they need something from you. Make sure you don’t do the same. If someone has provided you with support or information, look for an opportunity to reciprocate. This may not be immediate, but if you are in communication with them, then it will give you an opportunity to help them with advice or information, or even a referral.

Organize Your Contacts

Don’t pick up a business card and toss it in a drawer. Most people use an electronic contact organizer, but even if you don’t have one, then find a rolodex. The best way to organize your contacts is to have an electronic database where you can keep track of your conversations with that person and any promises you made, or information you shared, and vice versa. That way, when you contact them again, you can make sure to follow up about what you last communicated about.

Remember that your contact list is private. Don’t give out someone else’s information without checking with them first.

Story by Jennifer Taylor