The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “What are some tips that promise success at networking events?” is written by Rick Crossland, founder of A Player Advantage.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines networking as “the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” This is an excellent definition that captures the essential mutual benefit that networking provides for both individuals and businesses. Businesses want to be networked with top talent, and conversely, top-performing employees want to be networked to the best opportunities. Businesses need excellent product and service providers, and networking provides an opportunity for these suppliers to meet these companies directly and efficiently to determine mutual value.
In today’s world, networking is really conducted in three different ways: The first is with your personal network, or keeping in contact with your proverbial Rolodex. The second is by attending high-end events and networking face to face. The third is through social media.
Networking is one of the most effective business strategies—period. It’s one of the fastest and most proven ways to gain new business with qualified companies that need your goods or services. On the other side of the coin, if your business is looking for high-quality suppliers or consultants, you’ll want to network and find out who your peers recommend to you, or try to meet these providers directly at events or through social media. LinkedIn was created for professional networking, but other social sites, like Facebook and Twitter—in addition to industry blogs—can provide excellent ways to connect or reconnect with people and expand your network.
See also: 5 Surefire Ways to Bomb Your Next Networking Event
With all of these benefits, then, why do so many business professionals shy away from the amount of networking activity they should be doing? It takes work and effort to book, pay for, and attend a good business event. And while you’re at an event, you need to actually “work” the room and meet people you don’t know. Too many people fall into the trap of going to a business event just to eat and drink and talk with people they already know.
Likewise, it takes time and focus to connect with like-minded professionals and construct a conversation that provides value to them, especially when you’re connecting through social media. You need to actually dedicate time to search for quality people to add to your network, and then develop a value proposition that resonates with them.
The art of networking is a learned skill, and you get better at it the more you study and practice it. The best networkers provide value to others first, and in return for providing this value, ultimately get more value in return. Networking is a long-term strategy. Those who simply seek an immediate gain from networking tend to turn people off with their abrasive and self-serving nature.
Ask people how you can help them and what their goals are, and you’ll become a magnet for people. As networking expert Ivan Misner says, “Givers gain.” They will quickly respond with a question on how they can help you.
When you attend an event, book one follow-up appointment with someone you met who is qualified to either refer you or do business with you directly. This means that on average, over three networking events, you will have booked three follow-up appointments. I found that this simple rule opens up a vista of possibilities. Instead of looking like a novice trying to collect as many business cards as possible (as most people are taught to do), you work on building deeper connections with just a handful of people. You’ll get better results from this approach and will enjoy networking more because you are going deeper and exchanging value with people, rather than simply being transactional.
Rick is the author of the soon-to-be-released book, The A Player. He works with companies across the country to transform good companies into great companies with his unique A Player approach.