Friday, June 15, 2007

Here's a networking tip: give away FEWER cards

When I first started the zen kitchen back in January of last year, I was a networking FOOL. I went to every event I could get my hands on, from BNI to the Boston Women's Network, to various other events that landed in my e-mail box with rather obnoxious frequency.

Some events worked really well for me - for example, I love dinner events and discussion groups, partially because I love to eat and I love to talk (can ya tell?). Overly crowded events don't really work for me - especially when it's all drinks and no food (why would you give people alcohol and not FEED THEM?) and goodness help me - morning events just do not work for me. I don't know about you, but I didn't go into business for myself to wake up THAT early.

But the more events I went to, the more I found that I was giving away insane numbers of business cards with no results. My first box of 500 was gone within 3 months - some might call that normal, but I call it wasteful - especially when half of those cards were the result of the common practice of some events (no names will be given here) to make you pass around your business cards to as many people as you can without talking to them first.

After a while, it gets expensive - and wasteful. How many business cards that you get in this manner do you actually ever keep, or feel remotely comfortable contacting after the fact? For me, the point of networking is to get to know people, and determine whether you'd like to get to know them more. That first conversation is like a first date - you're feeling each other out to see if there's a good fit.

Now, before I give my business card to anyone, I chat with them for at least 5-10 minutes to make sure they're someone I even want to keep in touch with. During that first conversation, I'm looking for four key things:

  1. are they doing something I find interesting, and would like to know more about?

  2. are they someone I get along with personally (good conversation, likable, common interests, etc.)? I'd really rather not lock myself into extended contact with someone that I find boring and/or just a jerk, thanks.

  3. are they someone that I can help in some way, either by working for them or providing some type of resource?

  4. are they someone who might be able to give you work at some point, either for their business, or for someone they know? This is a special bonus, although I've learned it's not REQUIRED by any means as long as the first two are in place.

The reason I say that the last is not required is because, honestly, anyone COULD give you work at some point, and often I find that I'd rather take time getting to know people that I really get along with who are doing interesting things than people whose only attraction for me is the fact that they're working for a company I'd like to work with...if I don't like them, I won't want to work with them.

Once I've done a mini-prequal on them and I've decided they're someone I want to know, THEN I exchange cards and ask if I can sign them up for my newsletter. I also tend to write a little note on the back to remember things about them - interests they might have, family members, things we might have talked about. The next day, I follow up right away with the folks I had a really good connection with or the folks I wanted to share resources with, and I load the business cards into my contact management software, then add the folks who agreed to be on the list to my e-mail news list.

Doing things this way, I use nearly 1/3 of the cards as I did with the previous method, and my networking efforts have been significantly more successful. Not only does this mean less paper waste and printing expense (which makes me SO very happy), it's less time and energy wasted - which, as a REALLY BUSY GAL of late, has proven just wonderful. The "more money, less work" thing is nice too.

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