Back to School, Back to Networking: Tips for Optimizing Your Networking this Fall

Students getting on a school bus for their first day of classes.

Students getting on a school bus for their first day of classes.

As summer comes to a close and the last quarter of the year approaches, it is time to start thinking about how we want to finish out the year. Many business professionals have children and are preparing them for school or going on their last vacation before the summer ends.

Once summer is over, everyone starts to feel the pressure of getting back into a networking mindset. Networking groups start meeting again, people take fewer vacations and with the fiscal year winding down, professionals “buckle down” to finish the year strong. Networking is one of the most valuable tools and skills a business person can have.

With Labor Day falling late this year we technically lose a full week of networking. I would not be concerned about losing 7 days of networking; look at it as an extra week to prepare for business development activities.

Here are some tips for getting back into the swing of networking.

Look at your online profiles

Granted summer is a time for relaxation and vacations but before doing anything business related I make sure that my online profile is up to date. Did you receive an award or have a business success since you last updated your profile? Adding an award or new accomplishments that you are proud of should be done at this time.

Examine your LinkedIn profile. As we know LinkedIn is the number one online networking site among business professionals and updating this profile is important.  LinkedIn is also a place where people go to find out who you are and what you do. Remember to have a profile that does not focus on selling. Let your experience and personality shine. Your profile should be informative and demonstrate how you can be of assistance to others. In a networking context this is where you can expect a visit from people you have met at networking events.

Networking event.

Networking event.

Set your networking goals, budget and time commitment

Knowing the level of commitment that you are able to give to networking is vital.  Networking is work and part of your overall marketing. The commitment stage is where you decide how much of your time you are going to give to meeting and following up with people as well as how many meetings you will attend. Create a schedule that works for you and does not put too much time pressure on you. Don’t overbook yourself to a point where you cannot get the most out of meetings or events.

Next, create a budget. Not many people think of this, but it is critical and should be built into a networking plan. It’s important to be aware of the amount of money being spent to be a member of each networking group as well as the time spent on networking. We know time is money and to properly network you must spend a significant amount of time. Consider how long meetings are, how often they take place, how many one-on-one meetings you will need to set up and are their extra costs for special events or activities that are not part of annual dues or fees?

Setting goals is among the important elements of networking. How many groups do you want to belong to?  How many of meetings do you wish to attend? Keep this constant throughout the year.

Networking schedule and preparation

It is important to keep track of the networking events that you have on your calendar and to prepare for them thoroughly. The night before the event, review what the meeting is about, what you hope to gain by attending and how you can help others with their business growth. Consider the fact that even if the person you are meeting with cannot help you or send you business, you may be able to assist them. Giving and facilitating relationships is the step in building trust.

Have a follow up plan

Attending an event or making an introduction starts the networking process. How you follow up with people will be critical to the outcome. How are you going to follow up? Are you going to connect with them on LinkedIn, send them an email or a note or call them?  Have a plan of action and as I have recommended in the past, have a system for categorizing new contacts. Focus on those who can send you business but who can also send you referrals. Look for people who you can partner with as well. For different types of contacts or even different professions you should have a system for following up and adding people to your database.

A thoughtful follow-up approach will lead to a positive impression; it shows that you are really interested and not just looking to sell new contacts your products or services. Think about how you are going to ask for a meeting or a call. Once you have set up your follow up, be sure to have an action plan.  I will repeat again, meetings should never be sales calls. Have you ever had lunch with someone who immediately started talking about their services and why you need them? This is a flawed approach and one that will repel people. Get to know people, share information and once trust is built you can offer your solutions.

Have some fun

Summer was fun and there is no reason why the fall can’t be fun. When networking, share your summer experiences, just like you did when you were in elementary school. Ask others to tell you what they did last summer. This is a great way to engage, build rapport and get to know what people like to do outside of work. This approach will be helpful in starting conversations. As you know some of the best business conversations have nothing to do with business at all.

Welcome the fall with open arms and think about these strategies before you head out to your next networking meeting. Check out more about networking from my blog at www.corbettpr.wordpress.com.

By Bill Corbett

Corbett Public Relations Long Island and the World 

@liprguy

@corbettpr

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