Done correctly, networking can help you learn from others, broaden your knowledge and connect with potential clients. But what works for one person may not make sense for someone else. Still, I believe there are five common networking rules that everyone should follow:
1. Learn to reciprocate.
Like any good relationship, networking is not a one-way street. Look for opportunities to help others while you also try to further your own interests. If you're always a taker and never a giver, people will pick up on that and quickly begin to avoid you. Asking the simple question “Is there anything I can do to help you?” can make a lasting impression. Getting help from you, whether that's in the form of leads, business contacts or the name of a new vendor, can put people in a reciprocal mood.
2. Be respectful.
Everyone is busy. When you're networking, don’t waste someone else’s time by hounding them in person or on social media. When you meet someone new, especially if they've been introduced to you by a mutual friend, give them your full attention, ask questions and be an active listener. Be genuine and generous.
3. Honesty is the best policy.
Be straightforward in your communications. If there’s a business opportunity you want to discuss or a referral you need, don't pretend you're just interested in getting to know the person. Instead, let the other person know your intentions up front. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.
4. Opportunities come in different colors.
There are many ways to network, so it's important to find out which ways work best for you. If you're focused on developing business within your local community, get involved in organizations like your chamber of commerce, local service clubs or professional organizations. In addition, look for opportunities to sponsor local events. Online connections through Twitter, LinkedIn and other networking sites may be effective, too.
5. Stay connected.
Effective networking is an ongoing process. Create a system to help you keep track of the people you meet, and maintain regular contact with those who can help you achieve your business goals. An occasional email to say hello, even when you don’t need anything specific, is a good way to develop that type of relationship. Additionally, look for ways to connect others—even if there isn’t an immediate benefit for you. Forging these relationships will help grow and strengthen your network.
For more insights on getting the most out of networking opportunities, access the exclusive guide, Networking That Works: Connect Your Way to Business Growth.
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This article was originally published on November 4, 2014.