Think of networking as process rather than an event and use business cards as a way to keep score. This entails setting a goal such as planning to meet three new people a day and giving them your business card. If you achieve this objective you will have met about 1,000 new people in a year. Do you think this would grow your business? At this point I am not even talking about improving the “quality” of your contacts but simply expanding your sphere of influence.
Back in 2008 after President Obama was elected I set a goal to meet 100 people in 100 days. The reason I set this goal was because after the election everyone was talking about the new President’s first 100 days. I thought wow look what everyone expects of him. Let’s see what I can accomplish in 100 days. Let me tell you this is not as aggressive as my first example but still quite challenging. But I am still reaping the fruits of that initiative.
To make this a game you need to quantify your goal. I made the rule that a new contact had to be someone I had not met or had a meaningful interaction with before. To score the encounter as a success I had to have a conversation to understand who they are and something about what they do or what their interests are; and they in return had to have learned something about me. The deal is sealed by giving a business card so that I know they have my contact information. Ideally I have gotten their name and contact information as well. You can set your own parameters for your “game”.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about business cards and how valuable they may or not be. Also when to give them and whether to give them at all. I say stop thinking so hard about it. A business card is a very inexpensive slip of paper with your name and contact information, and maybe some information about the kind of product or service you provide. That’s all. It has no magical powers except that it can help people to remember your name and know how to contact you. Giving someone your business card is simply a courtesy and an invitation to connect. Some people may keep them and some people may throw them away. The only business cards that are important are the ones that go out in the world bring back business. The more you distribute the better chance of getting a return on your networking investment and winning the game.
If you want to include online contacts I have broadened it to include a person-to-person phone conversation and some “proof” that they have visited my website. The point is to encourage meaningful personal interaction not simply emails or texts. Part of the reason is speed. Yes you can build valuable relationships in other ways but it takes much more time. Phone is best.
Phase two is follow-up and expand your relationship. Understand something about the needs, wants and interests of your new friends. Be a giver. Share an article or other resource on a topic they might find valuable, interesting, or amusing. There is no need to “hard sell.” Find ways to interject reminders about your product and service as it makes sense. Such as, “I just got back from Connecticut where I was videotaping a three day conference about construction safety. On the plane I read this article I thought you might find interesting.” Be sure to connect with your new contacts on LinkedIn and/or Facebook or other social media so that you can build your relationship through posts and casual comments over time.
Networking is not about attending networking events, though that can be helpful toward the goal of meeting more people in a shorter period of time. It is about a process of meeting and connecting with new people to build a mutually beneficial web of resources. There are opportunities all around you. Get in the game.
Reno Lovison is a web video and book trailer producer based in Chicago and is the author of “Turn Your Business Card Into Business” The Fundamentals of Building Entrepreneurial Business Relationships.