Networking has picked up more than a few negative connotations over the years: schmoozing, selling, card swapping and more. There is another, more subtle perception about networking that is not necessarily negative, but that limits us all the same. The idea persists that networking takes place only at large, “mix and mingle” type of gatherings.
These are usually Chamber of Commerce events, called mixers, or sundowners, or after hours, or any one of a number of creative names that still bring up the idea that all networking takes place in a very large room full of people.
Certainly a Chamber mixer can be an excellent way to meet new people, especially if your Chamber works hard to get a good mix of attendees and people are there to build relationships, not sell. But this is a restrictive opinion because networking includes activities, actions, and habits that are extremely diverse and creative. If you believe this is your only networking avenue, you are missing out on building relationships in many ways.
What else is networking besides going to mixers? It includes any actions you take: meeting people, communicating with them in a way that builds rapport, and giving them help they need (i.e. resources, info, leads). It is anything you do that builds and strengthens a mutually beneficial relationship.
• Making a supportive phone call
• Inviting someone to coffee
• Offering a referral to a service they need
• Exhibiting at business trade shows
• Learning about their services to share with others
• Going with someone to a large social event
• Setting up a meeting between two friends
• Sending a prospective lead to someone
• Giving first, without expectation of return
• Forwarding an interesting article
• Writing a testimonial
• Conducting or attending training seminars
• Taking people to lunch
• Sending thank you notes
Don’t limit yourself in the future by thinking of networking as an event with a large crowd of people sipping drinks and “mingling.” Think about all the different actions that you can take to meet people, build relationships, and develop your network.