According to Rich Stromback, also known as “Mr. Davos” thanks to his wide network containing some of the world’s most powerful people, 99% of all networking events are a waste of time. The only parts that are worthwhile are the interactions you have with people who can make an impact on your business.
Thus, to get an ROI from your networking efforts, you need to know exactly what kinds of people you can form mutually beneficial relationships with and the most effective ways to capture their attention. With that knowledge in mind, you can pursue the networking activities that are most likely to drive your success. Here’s how.
Leverage the Reciprocity Principle to Earn Trust
Research shows that reciprocity is one of the most powerful drivers of social influence. When you help others without being asked, they not only feel obligated to return the favor but they’re also more likely to trust you.
When you’re engaging in networking activities, look for opportunities to help others. Even simple favors such as making introductions, offering your expertise, and referring people to reliable vendors can go a long way in helping you establish lasting, mutually beneficial connections.
Since your favor has to be valuable to trigger the reciprocity principle, wait to use this networking strategy until you know what business challenges people are facing. It’s a great tactic to transform casual connections into mutually beneficial relationships.
Don’t Let Yourself Be Forgotten
The biggest mistakes that networkers make is forgetting to follow-up and stay-in-touch. Life gets busy and if you don’t have strong habits in place it’s easy to for weeks to go by before you reach out to a new connection and by then you’re often forgotten.
To foster a mutually beneficial relationship with every valuable connection you meet, you need to:
- Send a follow-up note within 48 hours of meeting new people. This helps them remember your conversation and shows that you’re interested in building a relationship.
- If they mentioned something time-specific in your conversation (ex. A product launch, upcoming event, etc.) reach shortly afterward to see how it went. If you didn’t discuss anything time-specific, follow-up 2-3 weeks later with an article or other information that might interest them.
- Check in with all your contacts quarterly unless you have a reason to reach out sooner. This ensures you’re not forgotten by connections who could eventually become business partners.
Don’t have the time for this kind of follow-up? Hire a virtual assistant. Our VAs are trained to help you with every step of the networking process from identifying events you should attend to creating reminders and follow-up emails so that you can build a diverse and reliable network. Download our guide How to Leverage a Virtual Assistant for Professional Networking to learn more.
Ask for Small Favors If You Make a Bad Impression
Many people believe that first impressions are everything and that if you make a poor one there is little chance of forming a mutually beneficial relationship. However, unless you do something unforgivably egregious, you can redeem yourself.
An abundance of psychological research has found that asking for small favors is one of the easiest ways to change someone’s opinion about you. The key is to ask for something that flatters the other person.
This phenomenon has been most notably used by Benjamin Franklin who won over one of his biggest foes by asking to borrow a rare book from their collection. Since Franklin was a well-known literary enthusiast, his foe felt smug that Franklin needed to borrow one of his books. When Franklin returned the book with a polite thank you note, it sparked a literary conversation and the two eventually became friends.
To achieve similar results with people who you think don’t like you, you need to ask for small favors that appeal to their egos. Some examples include:
- Ask a known foodie for restaurant recommendations to take a client or a date.
- Ask a super-connector to be introduced to someone in their network.
- Ask an intellectual for feedback on something they’re an expert in.
Figure out what your targets are proud of and ask for a super easy favor that shows you respect your expertise. It’s the easiest way to start a conversation with someone who’s not interested in fostering a connection with you.
Join or Start a Mastermind
Unlike most networking groups that focus on building relationships, masterminds help grow your business, acquire new skills and/or achieve another goal that everyone in the group is passionate about.
Joining a mastermind is one of the most effective networking activities because the introductions, advice and other resources you get tend to be far more valuable than what you get from other networking activities since these connections have a deeper understanding of your business and goals.
Though every mastermind has its own norms, they’re generally small groups and give every member opportunities to share their challenges and get feedback from the rest of the group. Many groups also have an accountability system to ensure every member is making progress toward their goals.
To join a mastermind, search LinkedIn, Meetup and other networking sites. Can’t find one that matches your goals? Start your own by posting your idea on LinkedIn. Chances are, there are people within your first and second connections who are struggling with the same challenges you are and would love to join a group.
Speak at Conferences Instead of Just Attending Them
Though conferences bring together some of the most well-connected people in your industry, the chances of making a connection that results in a major business deal are slim. Speaking at conferences significantly increases the likelihood that you’ll make valuable connections since, instead of being a random attendee, you’re a leading expert who people want to meet and do business with.
There are three ways to secure speaking opportunities:
- Leverage your existing network to get in touch with event coordinators. If you know the right people and have a great presentation, it’s easy to secure spots.
- Have your business sponsor events. Most conferences reserve speaking slots for their top-tier sponsors.
- Pitch yourself to event coordinators. This process is time-consuming but it’s the only option if you lack the connections and/or budget to get in other ways.
Unless you have connections who are event coordinators, this is the most time-consuming and expensive networking activity. Use it only if achieving your networking goals will generate a financial return.
Maximize Your Networking ROI
Ultimately, to get an ROI, your networking efforts need to be highly targeted, focused on building deep relationships, and mutually beneficial. Master these three activities and you’ll build a strong, diverse network even if your schedule doesn’t allow you to meet new people consistently.
If you don’t have the time to develop these networking habits, a virtual assistant can help. Our managed VAs are trained in what we call “Mindshare Management.” It’s a system to help you stay top of mind and takes the burden off you so that you don’t have to remember when to follow-up or what key events are coming up - your VA will manage it all so you can focus on fostering strong relationships.
Want to learn more? Download our free guide to leveraging a virtual assistant for professional networking:
About the Author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.