Networking the Right Way (and the Wrong Way)

What I’m listening to: Melissa by The Allman Brothers Band

We’re almost finished with February, and if you’ve not noticed, we’ve talked a lot about networking. Not a ton, but it’s been the primary focus. Today is no different.

Raise your hand if this has happened to you:

You’re at a party. You introduce yourself to someone new and ask what they do. Ten minutes later, you’re looking for an exit. Your new acquaintance has talked nonstop and not once shown an interest in you other than a captive set of ears. Or worse, the conversation turned offensive — political, sexual, crass, insulting — within minutes and you struggle to find a good way to leave this person in the dust.

Bad networking is just like that.

To win at networking, you should lower your expectations and raise your interactions. Click To Tweet

What’s she going on about, you ask? Lower my expectations? Here’s the thing — most people go into networking with the goal of winning business that day, that minute.

That’s not what networking is about.

Networking is about the relationship. Period.

So when I say lower your expectations, I mean don’t go into a networking situation thinking you’re selling something right then and there. Lower the goal to something much more valuable — building a relationship.

Here are a few ways to do that:

Start by giving back. People don’t notice too much when you toot your own horn, so get their attention by spreading their good news. Don’t go nuts with it — one or two items every few weeks is fine and doesn’t feel like you’re stalking them. Also, include news that they might like to read — marketing advice, a new trend in the industry, or something legislative that relates to their core business.

Stay visible. Have their attention? Good. Now keep it by staying in that circle where you first connected with them. It could be a LinkedIn forum, a Twitter hash tag they use often, or a networking event you attended. Then do one more thing — find another medium through which to connect. If you met online, suggest coffee or a conference meeting. If you know them from Twitter, look at the conversations they’re having in LinkedIn forums.

Have your elevator pitch ready. That person in front of you just asked you “And what do you do?” Quick — what do you say? Whatever it is, make it concise and clear. Mine goes something like this: “I write and edit for the insurance industry, including both trade publications and corporate clients.” That’s it. It’s enough info to tell them what I do without overwhelming them with details. If they want to know more, they’ll ask. If they don’t, don’t force it.

Ask questions. And have them ready. What are some good conversation starters? Here are a few:

  1. So what’s new at your company?
  2. Tell me, are you seeing a trend in X? What will that mean for business?
  3. Who are your competitors? How are you differentiating?
  4. I saw that Y was being talked about more often? What do you think of it?

Now for some don’ts.

Don’t ask to get married on the first date. You didn’t really ask for the sale five minutes into that conversation, did you? If you don’t think that sucks from your perspective, pretend the roles are reversed and the client is selling to you. Now how do you feel? Use your own gut as a reality check. Don’t move into sales too fast or you’ll lose them completely.

Don’t keep negative people in your feed. That may mean muting or deleting college buddies who can’t grow up or friends who start online battles, or even clients who don’t know how to behave online. It certainly means not connecting with people you don’t know or haven’t been introduced to, or in the case of Twitter, people whose feeds don’t have much to review. Stick with relevant connections and people who aren’t going to embarrass you in front of clients.

Don’t talk politics. Ever. I don’t care if that client is dragging you by the hair into the conversation. Deflect. Change the subject. Freshen your drink. Excuse yourself to feed the yak… just don’t go there, even if you agree, for someone nearby could have strong opposing views and could somehow get copied on that email or overhear that conversation.

Writers, how soon do you move the client from networking contact to marketing? What’s worked best for you?

What’s your best networking advice?


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  • Cathy Miller February 22, 2017 at 8:40 am

    There’s a reason why we call them business relationships. Relationships take time. You can be that desperate person trying to score before the bar closes or you can invest the time getting to know and appreciate the person you just met.

    • lwidmer February 22, 2017 at 9:30 am

      I LOVE your analogy, Cathy! LOL Perfect.

  • Paula Hendrickson February 22, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Pretty much every time someone asks what I do, as soon as I say “writer” (before I can mention what I write) the person says, “Oh! I’m a writer too!” and starts talking about the idea he or she has for a novel/screenplay/graphic novel, or maybe a blog. The few times I mange to get the word “TV” out either people say, “I never watch TV,” or start talking about their favorite shows.

    My typical response when a neighbor or someone I don’t know brings up politics? “I’m an independent. I don’t really like either party.” That usually shuts people up.

    Is my inner introrvert showing?

    • lwidmer February 23, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      Paula, that sounds like your inner genius showing. Why get dragged into conversations that upset or bore you?

      I get the deer-in-headlights stare when they get excited and say “Oh! What do you write?” and I say “Insurance and risk management topics mainly….” then as their balloons deflate, I add “And I’ve published poetry.”

      It’s as though the only valid writing is books and poems. Yet neither of those pay my bills. And that’s what excites ME. 🙂

      • Paula Hendrickson February 24, 2017 at 11:05 am

        And screenplays.

        Remember that former president of the neighborhood group who got mad at me for including info in the newsletter that she had explicitly TOLD me to include? The first time I met her she said she was a writer, too. Then said she had all these ideas in her head and maybe I could help her write them down. Um, no thanks. If you’re a “writer” then write it your darn self!

        • lwidmer February 27, 2017 at 2:55 pm

          That doesn’t exactly sound like a writer to me, either! Strange exchange. I do remember that person. It’s a shame because it felt like she was a writer just to show you she could. Why? What’s the point? I’d never pretend to be an accountant, and I’d never think less of someone who needs a writer. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. That she wasn’t willing to accept hers speaks to her own insecurities.