networking /ˈnetˌwərkiNG/the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts
Networking is a vital part of business. Without it, you will only find the customers who happen upon a website or hear about you through marketing. You are also more likely to build relationships with other companies who can help with things like social media upkeep or even office supplies. Creating those connections can, in some cases, ‘make it or break it.’ You never know who you will run across that can make a difference – large or small – in your business.
Unfortunately, networking events can be nerve-wracking. Finding them, meeting new people, presenting a thirty-second intro, knowing what to say – it seems like a lot. It doesn’t have to be, though. Technology has made searching for networking events easier than ever. Websites like MeetUp and eventbrite allow you to search for events in your area. Just enter “small business” or “networking” or “[industry]” and see what pops up. Some events may be weekly engagements while others are one shots. You can even find trade shows in your area that provide a huge opportunity to meet new people on the showroom floor or in classroom settings through continuing education. Look for industry-focused clubs, college alumni events, career fairs, and community service organizations. There are several options, so choose the ones that work best for you.
Knowing what to say may be just as much of a challenge as finding these events – if not more. Networking events often allow a fifteen- to thirty-second intro at the beginning of each meeting. This is the chance for you to pitch who you are and what you do. Giving a clear explanation (in a short amount of time) lets others know what you’re about and if they think you would be a good fit for their needs. You also have to know how to have a one-on-one conversation. Thankfully, you don’t have to do it alone. Here are some of the best questions to ask at networking events that can make you stand out from the crowd.
Learn About the Field
What do you think the future looks like in your industry?
What is the best degree to get for this field?
Does this industry offer internships or apprenticeships?
What has changed the most about the field since you started?
Learn About the Job
What’s the company culture like among employees?
What is the mission or vision of the company?
How many hours do you usually work each week?
Do you mainly work in the office, at home, or travel to different locations?
Learn About the Person
What professional development do you do?
What are your long-term career goals?
How do you maintain work-life balance?
Are you a member of other networking groups or professional organizations?
Learn About Inspiration
Are you inspired by any particular individuals?
What books do you recommend?
What has been your biggest success factor?
What are your daily habits?