The old adage holds true: “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” One of the best ways to increase your roster of “who you know” is through networking, which is one of the biggest advantages of an MBA program. Whether you’re connecting with distinguished alumni, through guest speaker events or even across your own cohort, there’s almost always someone you can connect with to help you reach your goals. In this post, we’ll dig into 10 tips for how to get the most out of networking.
1. Don’t Ask for Work
Networking isn’t as much about selling yourself to others, but making genuine connections that could lead to future business. If you pitch yourself too hard, you could put uncomfortable pressure on the person you’re talking with. The concept behind networking is simple: People would rather do business with people they know. As you network, you’re increasing the volume of people who know you—and may give you a call, text or email the next time they have an opportunity. As long as you let them know who you are and what you bring to the table, you’ve taken a step in the right direction. Listing all your accomplishments in a one-sided exchange may leave a sour taste in their mouth.
2. Set Specific Goals
Measurable goals help you enter a networking event or opportunity with a focus. The Small Business Administration (SBA) recommends considering the following:1
- Making a specific number of contacts each month
- Getting a certain number of qualified leads over a specific time period
- Filling a particular need, such as getting a new supplier or vendor
3. Set Aside Time for Networking
Setting aside time to network can prevent you from relegating networking to a “when I get around to it” task. Networking deserves considerable time because it can result in income-producing deals and partnerships. If you’re heading to an alumni event, for example, designate a portion of your time to networking instead of merely catching up with old friends. You can also map out networking opportunities over the course of a year or a fiscal quarter, committing to networking sessions ahead of time.
4. Cast a Wide Net
Look for opportunities to talk to new people and connect with new groups. Casting a wider net in this way doesn’t mean you remove your sense of focus. Rather, you avoid the tendency to over-commit to a single group, demographic or organization.
The same goes for when you’re at an event. You don’t want to spend too much time with one individual. You may be limiting your connections, as well as monopolizing time they may have wanted to spend connecting with others.
5. Make a Networking Plan
While it’s true that nearly all connections are beneficial, this doesn’t mean you should network randomly. To get the most out of networking, consider:
- Trade groups holding conferences that may benefit your business
- Local groups like the Chamber of Commerce
- Specialized groups such as those that target racial minorities, special interest groups or women
- Events focused on specific objectives, such as securing financing or generating sales leads
6. Listen First; Talk Second
No one likes being talked at. If you find you tend to do most of the talking during a conversation, you may have to shed that tendency to improve your networking skills. When you listen instead of talk, you increase the chances of learning about the other person’s needs—and how you can fill them. You also create a more pleasant conversation for the person with whom you’re conversing. This may also make them more comfortable interacting with you in the future.
7. Follow Through
You want to be regarded as the kind of person who does what they say. Therefore, it’s important to follow through on anything you say you can or will do during an interaction. For example, if you say you will email someone your portfolio, do it as soon as you get the chance. Or if the conversation drifts into business specifics and you agree to provide a quote, don’t put it off for a few days; try to deliver it as soon as you're able. Even if you say you’ll forward their information to a friend who may be better able to meet their needs, do it as soon as you can and let the person know you’ve made the connection. As a result, you’ll come across as reliable and trustworthy.
8. Follow Up
Following up helps in multiple ways: It enables you to “strike while the iron’s hot” and shows you value the connection you made with the individual. Following up while the “iron’s hot” makes it easier to further mold and shape your connection into a business opportunity. Soon after meeting the person, you are more likely to be top-of-mind, making you a more immediate choice for potential job openings and consulting opportunities. Since you're placing yourself in the forefront of their mind, they may be more likely to recommend you to someone else who needs a professional with your skillset. Furthermore, when you circle back to the person, you make an implicit statement to the effect of, “Because you and your story mean something to me, I wanted to reach out to learn more.” In this way, you honor the individual, their journey and their business challenges.
9. Use Online and Offline Networking
Even though LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and other social media outlets can produce strong leads, in-person interaction shouldn’t be underestimated. The same principle applies vice-versa: You can’t put all your eggs into the in-person basket. Diversifying your networking strategy will produce a wider range of contacts and enhance your ability to communicate effectively in different settings.
10. Keep Working at It
Networking, like most other facets of business, takes skill. So, you won’t likely nail it perfectly the first time out. Although any awkwardness during an unfruitful networking effort may sting, get back up and try again. As you learn what works and what doesn’t, you hone your skills, making each interaction more productive.
Broaden Your Network with an Online MBA from Marquette
If you're ready to expand your network and gain invaluable skills and knowledge to use immediately, consider how an MBA from a well-recognized and well-connected school like Marquette could help you achieve your goals. With an online MBA from Marquette, you can grow your network from small to global.
1. Retrieved on February 25, 2021, from sba.gov/blog/build-your-business-through-networking