One of the wonderful things about attending The Clean Show was having the opportunity to network with others in our industry. The best definition I can offer of networking is: the art of building and expanding professional relationships. It is clear that belonging to a peer-to-peer or cost group enhances the process of networking. Having the Tuchman Advisory Group members circulating at the show expanded my ability to listen and learn. As a part of the Cleaner’s Supply Consultant’s Corner, I had the opportunity to discuss many topics with participants who stopped by to talk. The truth is that very often we feel that, even in a large group, we are alone. Alone does not mean that you are all by yourself. It means that it may be difficult to reach out and gain from the opportunity that presents itself in a large gathering. Returning home from The Clean Show those experiences inspired me to ask a fundamental question: “how can we reach out and enhance the networking that is essential to us in our everyday effort to improve our businesses?”
Glenn Smith, Owner & CEO of Glenn Smith Executive Coaching, offers this anecdote based on a performance review by his employer who commended him for having great networking skills:
“I wanted to know what he saw (which I was just doing intuitively) and why he thought it valuable. That day he explained to me the importance of a strong, growing network. He explained to me how businesses and leaders grow through strategic relationships. He showed me how my network was a wealth of information, connections and future opportunity. He told me that my network made me an important resource to our team and the entire organization. He helped me see how my network expanded my personal vision and how it not only contributed to my current success but also to the future success of everyone I worked with. He told me that, because of my network and my networking abilities, I was the most resourceful person on our team. As he continued on without pause I just soaked it in. It not only affirmed and inspired me, it also gave me a great vision for networking as a core strategy for business and life. Today I can say without hesitation that one of my greatest strengths is networking. And it is one of the greatest contributors to my personal and professional success!”
Doing more research into the art of networking would have been useful to me prior to attending The Clean Show. When it comes to networking, especially at a big event or conference, preparing ahead of time is crucial. “Always have a strategy and set goals ahead of time,” suggests Stephanie Abrams Cartin and Courtney Spritzer, cofounders of Socialfly, a social-media marketing and influencer agency. “More than anything, it is important to know the audience you are addressing, and your personal brand. Create an elevator pitch that reflects your strengths as well as showing your personality. If it helps you feel prepared, research other event attendees beforehand so you know whom you want to talk to and why. Think of how you’ll introduce yourself to them as well as some questions you’d want to ask them. Then, when you walk into a room filled with people, you’ll probably feel less overwhelmed because you have some specific goals in mind for the session.” Rishi Chandhurry, VP of Product Management at Google, explained it this way: “Networking is free, most of the time. It’s full of like-minded individuals and if you go to the right event, it is full of people you can work with or learn from in some way.”
While doing my research, I sought a way to boil down the art of networking to a defined number of points. I found the answer in the article entitled Tips for Successful Business Networking by Susan M. Heathfield, Human Resources & Management Consultant for TheBalance.com
• Build a network of partners to keep an open eye and ear for new opportunities for you, and vice versa, you for them. Networking is only effective when it is mutually beneficial.
• Reach targeted individuals for your business or career in two ways: directly or indirectly through your contacts. Expand your network through colleagues with a reach that you cannot develop by yourself.
• Build visibility within your industry or profession by raising your profile. Go to every social and business gathering that you possibly can.
• Build visibility within your community to assist your organization to develop a reputation as an employer of choice. This will help you recruit and retain great employees. Your community will look upon you as the face of your business.
• Build a strong network with coworkers within your organization to accomplish work more successfully by utilizing your network of mutually beneficial relationships.
• Create a diverse network of people with whom you can share ideas and gain information. Nothing is as effective as bouncing ideas back and forth with another professional whom you admire.
• Contribute to charitable and community causes. Many business-networking events involve fundraising or volunteering. For people who are shy when meeting new people, these are often the most comfortable events. Everyone is attending for the same reason and the event’s sole focus is not business networking, it’s an ancillary benefit: doing good.
• While worldwide is not local, it is the new networking. It is also easier for people who may be uncomfortable in a face-to-face setting. Just don’t use it as a substitute for business networking in person.
• Networking has never been easier than now when you can almost instantaneously begin to build a far-flung network of professional people on online social-networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
• You will actually make friends. The people you meet when business networking have a lot in common with you. Pursue relationships with them not for just business advantages, but to share common interests and fun.
Over the years, I have developed some additional helpful networking tools:
• Forming new relationships is never easy. Initiating a conversation with a perfect stranger can often be awkward. Promotional items are helpful in this area. I have given out a variety of practical items that help to initiate a conversation. I have handed out pens with a top that could be used as a stylus as well as a silicone wallet that attaches to the back of your smart phone to allow easy access to your business cards and credit card. This kind of thing is a good icebreaker and puts your business name front and center.
• When attending a networking event bring plenty of business cards to distribute and a pen. As you receive business cards from others, write on the back of each new business card an individual detail about the new contact or what you discussed to help you remember the person.
• Be sure to follow-up with an email, text or hand-written letter afterwards. The notes you made on the back of the contact’s business card will be especially useful.
Finally, the most important and rewarding business networking tip is to remember to think about what you can offer that contact, not what that contact can offer you. Playing on the words of John F. Kennedy in his 1961 inaugural address, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” You can be certain that someday, and probably in the most serendipitous and unexpected way, you will see positive benefits as a result of making networking all about helping business associates achieve their goals. Now is the time to begin your opportunity to network!