Growing up, my mama taught me a lot of things about life. “Always be respectful of another person’s thoughts and opinions.” “Be a person of your word.” “Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’” and of course, “don’t talk to strangers.”
To this day, I still respect and mind all of those little life lessons – but as I grew in the professional setting, I realized that last lesson was a tough one to follow (sorry, mama).
Picture this: It’s 2011 and I’m at my first “real job” out of college. I’m about to walk into my first Fresno Ad Federation Holiday Party. I enter the room not knowing anyone (except the coworkers I arrived with, of course).
A room full of professional strangers who have no idea who I am.
They’re laughing, they’re mingling, they’re having a grand old time. Someone walks by me, I smile, nod and, of course, look down at my phone. I hear my mom’s voice in the back of my head, “don’t talk to strangers, son.”
Another person walks up to me. Oh no – they’re coming right at me. They approach, extend their hand.
“Hello,” they say.
My palms? Sweaty.
My voice? Hoarse.
My mind? Running 1,000 miles an hour.
Sorry, mom. I had to do it.
Now, networking is more than just saying hello to a stranger in a room of professionals, but that’s a great start. Whether you’re just graduating from college or if you’ve been in the business for decades, networking is something that we can all brush up on every now and again.
Arrive On Time
Crazy for a millennial to tell you to “not be late,” right? I know it’s not “cool” to be the first to a party, but when it comes to professional networking, arriving on time is a stronger strategy than showing up right before a program starts (or worse, right after).
Arriving early/on time to a mixer not only shows your professionalism but it allows you to step into a calmer environment. YOU get to see people as they arrive. It also gives you the opportunity to start a conversation with them rather than walking around a room full of groups and awkwardly trying to break into someone else’s conversation.
Leave Your Sales Hat At The Door
If you haven’t heard, part of what we do at JP is cultivating relationships – and that’s truly at the core of what networking is all about.
When you meet someone for the first time, keep the conversation very simple and fun – don’t immediately go into talking about how you work for the best company in town. Trust me, you’re going to come off as insincere and nobody wants to do business with a person like that.
People want to do business with someone genuine. If they ask what you do or what your company has to offer, then go for it. Otherwise, don’t let the way you drive sales from your 9 to 5 drive your initial conversation.
Now there’s a difference between “following up” and “stalking” and in the digital world we live in today, the latter is much more convenient for us.
When you’re wrapping up a conversation, be sure to get contact information from the person with whom you were just chatting. The easiest way? A business card. The more modern way? Follow them on LinkedIn.
Be sure to follow up within a couple days (48 hours is my personal max) and invite them to coffee or lunch and keep the business conversation going. What will really win them over? Bring up something that you both talked about in person – then they’ll really know you were listening (and care).
Networking is simple, once you get the hang of it. Keep the conversation going, but leave the “hard sell” at the door. Be genuine and build your professional relationships. And just remember: good things come to those that wait (but don’t wait more than 48 hours).
Goodness, I’m starting to sound like my mama.
–Carlos Perez, Account Manager