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Professional Networking 101: How to build lasting connections in the marketing industry

We all know professional networking is important, right? It’s helpful in virtually any industry, but in the marketing industry, it’s a vital part of what we do. After all, so much of our success as iMarketers comes from building genuine and enduring connections — and that starts with networking.

For even the most extroverted among us, though, networking can seem less like connection-building and more like chore-completing. The bouncing from person to person, the awkward introductions, the swapping of the business cards — it can all feel a little contrived.

But! If you stroll into that next local small business get-together with a plan (and the right mindset), you’re more likely to walk away with connections that feel more like quality and less like quantity.

Before you go

Map out one or two networking goals you have for an event before you arrive. Maybe you want to make two new connections that will be worth following up on later, or maybe you want to reconnect with someone you met at a previous event. The more deliberate your goals, the more focus you’ll have, and the less aimless wandering will occur.

Once you’ve got your goals in mind, give yourself a timeline. Put on that networking game face for 30 minutes. If it feels like work, that’s ok — because it is. Having a networking deadline will help you be more intentional about how you spend that dedicated time. Then, once the 30 minutes is up, you can give yourself permission to “clock out” and go hang with your business bestie in the corner.

While you’re there

Just because this is work doesn’t mean it should feel insincere. When you meet someone, let them talk first. Show your genuine curiosity and interest in their work. Ask open-ended questions like, “What projects are you working on right now?” and “How did you become involved with your organization?” — and then really listen to their answers. When the conversation shifts back to you, share your story with them. Allow your warmth and authenticy to shine.

Throughout the conversation, look for ways you can be helpful. By “helpful,” we don’t mean, “oh, if you need help developing a social media strategy, you should hire me.” Instead, find opportunities to offer assistance that doesn’t cost either of you anything but helps build appreciation and rapport. For example, maybe it’s tax season and they’re grumbling about not being able to find the right accountant. Well, hey, you LOVE your tax guy/gal, and it would be no problem to send them the info in the morning. (As a bonus, it’s a natural reason to exchange contact information and follow back up with them, which solidifies the connection.)

Afterward

If you talk to more than one or two people, it’s likely the details of each conversation will be fuzzy even a few hours later. After you speak with a few people, find a quiet corner and take a few minutes to jot down a couple of notes on the back of their business cards. Things like what you talked about and how/when you want to follow up. Just enough information to jog your memory later about the interaction.

Then, a day or two later, follow up. Connect with them on social media with a personal message saying how much you enjoyed meeting them and learning about xyz project. Or send a quick email thanking them for sharing the mission of their organization with you and saying that you’d love to meet up for a coffee sometime to hear more.

Remember — you’re not networking to sell your services on the spot. You’re there to lay the foundation for lasting connections that will (hopefully) evolve into business relationships later.

Click here for more on how to find the fun in networking (and face your fears at the same time.)

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