Networking without a strategy is like throwing darts blindfolded and hoping to hit the bull’s-eye. I know because I used to do it that way. I’d show up just before an event started, talk to the people seated on my left and right, eat the chicken breast and salad, absorb the content and hightail it out of there.
It was inefficient, unfocused, a waste of precious time and money and definitely not results-oriented.
At one such event, I found myself listening to the speaker, and realized, “This isn’t working for me.”
I wanted to be highly connected with a wealth of strong professional and personal connections — mentors who were smarter than me and mentees who could learn from me — while raising awareness of my business, learning about other business resources in the community and getting involved to serve my community.
This wasn’t going to happen in the random, aimless manner in which I was networking. I realized it needed to be more strategic and purposeful.
Be strategic with your time
So where does one start with all the many organizations and invitations that flood our inboxes? Here is what I learned: First, you need to begin by selecting the appropriate opportunities on which to spend your time — opportunities that feed not only your business or professional growth, but also feed your passion.
There are three types of organizations that I believe are critical for strategic networking:
- Industry-specific: An organization specific to your company’s industry that provides advanced knowledge of your industry, exposure to others with shared challenges and successes specific to your industry, and opportunities to provide your input and affect change in your industry.
- Personal growth: An organization that feeds your personal growth and interests. It is critical to find an organization that is a source of replenishment for you — a watering hole for your soul. It’s an area that many people neglect; yet it’s where the real magic happens. If you try to grow a business without creating relationships to support you, you’ll run yourself and your business into the ground.
- Business growth: An organization in your community where you can increase your visibility and uncover opportunities to grow your business.
This is where you can meet the people you want to connect with that otherwise would have never taken your random call.
Once you have narrowed down your key organizations, get involved. Don’t just show up to their events and “eat the salad.”
Have you ever been to a networking event when the hosting organization was not hungry for volunteers? I doubt it. Start there. Raise your hand and help. Meet people. Contribute. Get connected.
If you’re serious about growing in your career and growing your business, make the time to do it and do it right. Strategic networking requires a conscious decision to change the way you network.
Step out of your comfort zone. Take off the blindfold and hit the bull’s-eye!
Jeanette Armbrust is the CEO of Skyline Exhibits of Central Ohio LLC, a sales, full-service trade show marketing company and the third ranked authorized distributor for Skyline Exhibits out of its 128 international distributors.