These ten tips, gleaned from years of personal experience and from research into the best practices of top marketers, will, if practiced, help any consultant put his or her best foot forward in these networking opportunities.
1. The desire to network is the first key. It is no coincidence that the word "networking" includes the word "work." It is work, and it requires attention and focus. However, the most successful personal marketers try to have fun at it! Look forward to the opportunity to meet new people.
2. Project a professional image. Dress professionally and look the part of the expert in your field. Use professional and high quality business cards; project the best image you can afford. Consider using the new CD-ROM based business cards if you are in the high-tech arena. You might also want to consider a small investment in a quality name tag; it can generate conversation if done tastefully.
3. Prepare for networking. Think through and develop a succinct and interesting personal introduction. Practice it and polish it with people who will give you an objective view. Carefully work in comments that would elicit a question or two from your contact. But avoid name dropping as a technique; it is offensive to most.
4. Take every opportunity. Don't limit yourself to the traditional professional organizations and Chamber of Commerce events. Look at waits in line, rides in an elevator, or chats at a party as networking opportunities,
5. Set a weekly goal. Start slowly, but start! You may want to target only 1 or 2 contacts a week at the beginning, but grow the goal as opportunities grow.
6. Think sources and resources. You will want to be seen as a resource to your contacts. Think of what you can offer them (ideas, newsletters, articles) and of what your contact could offer to you as a resource (referrals, other contacts, business services). If you look at networking from this perspective, you will use opportunities to your best advantage.
7. Jot notes on your contacts. Set up a system for tracking your contacts. Consider software options, a Rolodex or other methods. But keep track of these contacts. It will make follow-up much easier.
8. Follow-up is absolutely essential to successful networking. Keep in touch with your contact list. Consider developing a periodic newsletter, either in print or electronically. Call you contacts periodically to remind them that you are there and that you can be of service to them or to their contacts. Statistics show that you will generate four sales leads from your follow-up efforts for every one lead that comes from your contacts' initiative.
9. Just Start Now. Procrastinators do not make good networkers. Begin today and take a first step. Prepare your self-introduction. Order new business cards. Find a name tag supplier. But do something today.
10. Smile. It sounds trite, but a cheerful attitude will go a long way toward making networking a pleasant and rewarding experience.