U.S. Sen. Angus King has always said that Maine is like one big small town. As you approach your business networking statewide, treat it like you are networking with neighbors in your home town. Maine is a surprisingly small community; there's a good chance you're only a degree or two separated from most of your business contacts. Here are 10 tips to help you make the most of networking in our wonderful state.
- Word of mouth is your best referral source: Word of mouth comes from face-to-face meetings, so treat each meeting as an opportunity to network.
- Be social: Make lists of people you meet and create gatherings to bring them together, such as meetups, dinner parties, ball games and other occasions to get together in person. That's what people do in small towns. They meet. Face-to-face interactions can lead to the creation of the hormone oxytocin that acts as a powerful neurotransmitter to the brain. You need human contact to make real connections.
- Honor each contact you make: Even if you don't think they can benefit you, you never know who the next person will be who can change your life. Good will spreads. Good karma. Good reputation.
- When you meet someone, show interest in them: Ask about their lives, find out what they are interested in outside of work. Learn what you have in common, who you know in common. Get their business card and connect on LinkedIn or other social media right away. If this is someone with whom you want to have a long-term business relationship, write a handwritten note and make plans to follow up.
- Send note cards: The ones with stamps in envelopes that you send in the postal mail. Have note cards printed with your logo, name or company name, address, and web address all ready to go at your desk. Use a real stamp! Write a note in your handwriting even if you have bad handwriting. The fact that you took the time to write a handwritten note will make a long-lasting impression. I use flat cards with only one side to write on, so it's easy to fill the card and send the note quickly. I get my cards from moo.com, which has very high-quality printed materials. They make a lasting impression. Plus, who doesn't love to get a real piece of mail these days?
- Become a clipping service: Watch for your contacts' names in the newspaper and clip the articles, send in the mail with a note. You can set up Google alerts, too, to give you a heads up (www.google.com/alerts). If you don't have time for this, find someone to do it for you.
- Ask questions when you meet people and get them to talk about themselves: People love to talk about themselves and they will like you more if you listen to them and continue to ask more questions. In this way, you can learn more about what makes them tick. Before you go to an event, think of five questions you can ask pretty much anyone to get a conversation started, like “What do you like about your work?” Preparation is a shy person's social cheat sheet.
- Go to networking events: I go to numerous events each month, but even if you only have time for one a month, make the most of it and bring your business cards.
- Use social media: Connect and like what others post. Provide helpful content on your own LinkedIn profile.
- Honor the person who is in your presence at any given time: Fully engage with them. Put your phone away, or if you're expecting an important call or text, explain the situation to your companion, so they feel important to you. Make eye contact, ask questions and listen intently. You are representing your personal brand in these meetings — you want to be known as someone who pays attention and cares.
Nancy Marshall, aka The PR Maven, is founder of Marshall Communications, a public relations and marketing agency whose website is www.marshallpr.com