Building a network of quality professionals and a reliable group of business associates can be an invaluable asset to you and your company.  Building that network takes time, energy and a plan.  Attending networking events and networking without a plan will not help you build the right network for you and it could result in your downfall.  The best and easiest way to build your list of contacts is to attend networking events.  There are general networking events often hosted by local chambers and industry specific groups and attending either will benefit you and help you grow your business. 

The challenge is finding the right people to include in your network and creating an introduction that intrigues them to want to connect with you.  If you want to get ahead, try to find people that you are impressed with and can learn from, as opposed to people that want to learn from you.  While the latter may be flattering, they probably won’t help you grow.  Remember “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” Jim Rohn, motivational speaker, so pick your five carefully.

Practice these top 10 tips to be successful in your networking:

  1. Attitude.  Walk in the door with a positive attitude.  The best way to show this is with a Smile.  A smile is inviting and makes people want to talk to you, even if it’s just to find out why you are smiling.
  2. Ask Questions and Listen.  “Are you listening or just waiting to speak” is a famous line from Pulp Fiction.  If you are just waiting to speak you will never make any friends.  Actively listen to your new acquaintances, ask follow-up questions to show interest and use gestures to show you’re paying attention, like nodding your head.  This will create a positive first impression and go a long way in establishing you as an “authentic person,” even before you say one word about yourself or your company.
  3. Be Prepared with your Commercial.  When someone asks you what you do, you must have a prepared response.  The key to this is to be specific and say something that will allow you to make a connection with them. For example, if you are an accountant do not say “I am accountant and we provide a full range of accounting and tax services for our clients.”  While that is factually correct, it makes you sound like everyone else.  A better introduction would be “I am an accountant and with the new tax laws we help our clients get larger refunds.”  The second one connects with the person because who wouldn’t want a larger refund?  Develop your pitch to always show some benefit that you provide to your clients and not just a long list of services.
  4. Tell a Story. Nobody likes to be sold but everyone loves to hear a good story.  If you try to immediately sell someone you just met, you are guaranteed to fail and not make that connection.  However, if you tell them a story about someone else you helped and how they benefited from using your services, they will want to keep talking to you so maybe you can help them too!
  5. Dress Appropriately.  Most people that attend networking events genuinely want to grow their business.  Show them you care by dressing appropriately.  This does not necessarily mean a business suit, but it means at least business casual.  Wearing shirts with company logos is great for the brand and also displays professionalism. Shoes are very important.  Your shoes say a lot about you.  Nothing says “stay away” more than someone in nice clothes and wearing scuffed up shoes, but someone wearing jeans, a branded T-shirt and nice shoes is someone to consider.  You may also want to wear something that is intriguing like a shirt with a vague tag line, and interesting name badge or something out of the ordinary.  It would draw attention to you to make sure you strike up a conversation with more people.
  6. Be Enthusiastic.  If you are excited about your products, services and your Company and are happy to be at the event, people will be more interested in speaking with you.  Bring your enthusiasm and passion with you and leave your brochures at home and you will leave your mark behind.
  7. Be Authentic.  The key to success in networking and making new contacts is to be genuine!  No one can fake it to make it.  If you ask a question of someone and they start to talk, don’t allow yourself to be distracted.  Redirecting your attention because of a phone call or a wave from someone you know will leave an impression of being fake and insincere.   
  8. Research the event and attendees beforehand.  Some events are better than others, but that depends on you.  If you are a programmer or in the technology field, an event filled with real estate brokers, mortgage brokers and lenders is not going to be a good fit for you, but an event with a technology focus would be a better choice.  If you know what the make-up of the event attendees will be, craft your stories and prepare communications around that demographic. 
  9. Ask people what types of prospects they are looking for?   After they tell you what they do, ask them the types of prospects they are looking for.  You will appear to be genuinely interested in them and they will be more inclined to try to help you or point you in the right direction.
  10. Have a Strict Agenda.  Your goal should not be to come home with 50 business cards.  Your goal is to meet one new person that will be a valuable connection for you.  Set your goal ahead of time and make sure your efforts at the event help you achieve your goal.

Bonus Tip: Always assess & evaluate your results and modify accordingly for the next event.  If you devote up to 3 hours to attend the event, make sure you follow up so that the event is not a waste of your time.  Nurture the relationships.  You should build a list of your top 25 contacts and try to contact each one of them at least once per month.  Evaluate your list often and add or delete to build the best and strongest list possible.

For a list of New Jersey networking events be sure to check out http://NetworkingEvents.us.