In many ways, traditional networking is a lot like dating.
It’s a part of life you get more tired of the older you get – especially as it gets harder to find people who are looking for the same things you are.
Networking events are at the center of this problem. As David Siteman Garland put it, “Networking events are like nightclubs, because most people there are just looking for a professional one-night stand.”
The most basic problem with traditional networking events is that they are mixing bowls for professionals who are there for different reasons. No matter how you slice it, everyone in the room is focused on his or her own personal agenda – whether it be signing up a new client, creating awareness for their business, or connecting with someone in the hopes of developing a mutually beneficial relationship.
So, to help you navigate through, I am thrilled to share with you my top 3 effective dating strategies that can be applied to your professional networking efforts.
Top 3 Dating Strategies to Apply to Your Professional Networking
As a businessperson, for your networking efforts to be successful, you need to be in a room full of people who are there for the same reasons as you. This is obviously impossible to achieve at large networking events.
To expand on the dating analogy, books about finding your ideal partner or “soul mate” generally don’t advise you to go to nightclubs every night. If you’re looking to meet someone nice who might be suitable for a committed relationship, you probably wouldn’t waste your time in that type of environment, right? I know you aren’t hearing this from Paul!
Instead, the best dating advice suggests that you leverage your friendships and your interests, while exposing yourself to environments and opportunities that are more conducive to finding a compatible mate.
Dating for love is not a volume business. Networking for the long-term benefit of your business is the exact same thing, or at least it should be.
Unfortunately, almost all of the networking books and articles I have read focus their advice on how to make the most out of networking by attending events.
In my upcoming book, Networking Is Not Working: Stop Collecting Business Cards and Start Making Meaningful Connections, I highlight how wasteful attending networking events can be and offer up some fresh, unconventional (or un-networking) strategies as alternatives for developing professional relationships.
Let’s take a look at these top 3 dating strategies to apply to your professional networking efforts:
1). Get personal introductions from friends (i.e.: clients).
This is obviously the most ideal way to meet that special someone when it comes to personal relationships. The same can be said about those of the professional variety.
Who doesn’t love a referral to an ideal client? And, if you have a handful of raving fans, it is likely they already want to help you.
Unfortunately, while these folks may have the best of intentions, they might need a little nudge.
I have come to rely on a strategy that makes it easier for my clients who want to help me, to do so. I craft a seamless email template that is essentially plug-and-play. Your busy contacts will be thankful you’ve done the dirty work for them and you will benefit by eliminating any uncertainty over how to best describe what you do. Give this a try. Based on my experience, you should see an immediate payoff.
2). Let’s Party! (i.e.: Client Appreciation Events)
Hosting an event to celebrate a special occasion for a friend usually will attract some friends of your friends, who you have never met before.
(Cue up Notorious B.I.G., “Tell your friends to get with my friends and we can be friends.”)
One of these new faces could end up being just what you were looking for. Applying the same formula to your business, in the form of client appreciation events, can be just as effective.
A few years ago, I started hosting wine tasting events on a quarterly basis. Having clients over to your place for a nice dinner can work well too. I knew these gatherings could be a good way for me to meet new people.
But, my primary reason for setting them up was to do something for my existing clients I knew they would enjoy. I looked at the wine tastings as client appreciation – not marketing – even though they were clearly doing double duty.
I asked my clients (and strategic partners) to bring someone they thought would be good for me to meet. I assured them there would be no sales pitch. (You don’t have to sell because your clients will do the selling for you).
For me, it became commonplace for at least 50% of my non-clients at these events to reach out in order to learn more about my firm and see if I could help them.
Remember, if this does not happen (though I bet it will), your event should still be considered a success. Even if you don’t end up with a single new client, your existing clients will have had a nice night out, met some cool new people, and shared the experience with the person they invited – all thanks to you.
3) Double Dating
I call it “Double Dating,” in the professional networking sense, when you involve another professional from your network in some type of outing.
The next time you have four tickets to attend an event, invite a colleague to join you. Ideally, she should be someone you have referred business to in the past, and vice-versa. Then invite someone else from your network who you think your strategic partner should meet, and have them bring someone they think you should meet.
This arrangement gives you a way to expand your relationship with a business partner, while you also get to connect each other to a remarkable person from your respective networks.
Using these 3 dating strategies to enhance your professional networking efforts will definitely equip you with the know-how needed to broaden your professional network and to build stronger relationships with both clients and strategic partners!
What other non-traditional networking strategies have worked, or could work, for you? Which of these will you try?
This post is written by Derek Coburn, who is the Co-founder of cadre, an un-networking community for remarkable professionals in DC and Baltimore. His new book, Networking Is NOT Working, will be available on April 28. Read the first chapter, here, free! You can also find Derek on his website and on Twitter.