We all have our special skill sets and networking is not one of mine. Unfortunately, it’s a really important skill. Lucky for me, I know a few people who don’t suck at it. One of them is Shannon from Financially Blonde who was kind enough to share her mad networking skillz with us so that one day the students can become the grasshoppers.
A few weeks back, many of us attended the financial blogging conference, FinCon, and while we were there, Mel in particular commented to me about my networking skills, and asked if I could teach her my ways.
I was incredibly flattered by her compliment; however, it took me some time to think about what ways I would have to teach her, after all, I mostly just felt like I was being myself. After some reflection, though, I realized I may have some insight into networking and promised I would share them on her blog.
First, let me give you a little background on me. I began my finance career on the trading floor of a large investment bank at the ripe age of 22, only one month after I graduated college. The phrase “thrown to the wolves” is a good one to describe the experience. I was young, though, and eager to become a success.
I learned fast about how to run with the wolf pack; and I soon began to gain attention and bigger assignments. After a year of 90-hour work weeks, though, I longed for a little more balance in my life, and I was counseled that a career in sales might be a good one for me. So I took a step back and worked as a sales assistant to learn the ropes and determine if it was a good fit for me.
Within a few months, I realized that I had found the perfect mix of people and the markets, and I loved my job. After a year as a sales assistant, I was promoted to a salesperson and I feel as though I have been a salesperson ever since. The only thing that has changed is the product I sell. When I started out, I sold bonds to large companies, then I sold hedge funds, then I sold all investments and now I sell myself as a personal finance expert.
Networking is Critical
While I was ascending the ranks in my sales career, I didn’t give much thought to networking or perfecting my sales skills. I never took a class in sales and never got training in anything other than product specifics, which was why I was shocked when I had a boss one day tell me that I was the best salesperson he had ever seen.
I was immediately offended because the first thing that came to my mind was a used car salesperson, and I never wanted to be on the same page as one of those. He clarified that I was the best because you couldn’t even tell I was selling something, and I agreed with him because I told him that most days I wasn’t. I just loved people.
Over the years I have become more thoughtful around my sales and marketing and I have reflected on what works best. I have also become more cognizant of my networking, probably because I have seen it work in my favor more than a few times. So here are some of my best networking tips.
Tip 1 – Be Yourself
This sounds so basic, but most people get nervous when they meet new people and have a difficult time letting their guard down and being themselves. They have a fear of judgment or disdain from the person they are meeting, so instead they put up walls or get artificial. Every new person you meet, you need to think of it as a blind date. You never know if you will hit it off, but the only way the date will be successful is if both parties are comfortable and act like themselves.
I curse like a truck driver sometimes thanks to my all-girl’s Catholic high school and 10 years on a trading floor. I let my language come out when I meet new people. If they are going to be offended, then they are probably not someone who would be a good networking contact in the future anyway. Most people have the opposite reaction, though, and I actually find that when I curse, it helps someone else lower their wall and become more authentic.
Tip 2 – Learn Names
The number one sound that people like to hear is the sound of their own name. Yet, it is one of the hardest things for people to remember. When you are going to meet new people, think to yourself that you will remember their name, then when you hear the person’s name, repeat it back immediately and try to say it one other time without sounding crazy.
Person: “Hi, my name is Bob.”
Me: “Hi Bob, my name is Shannon.
Person: “Nice to meet you Shannon.”
Me: “So Bob, have you attended a FinCon before?”
Saying Bob’s name twice within a minute helps his name stick, and then I immediately create a pneumonic device in my head to remember it. For me, I associate people with celebrities, so I would immediately think “Bob Saget” (I was a big Full House fan growing up). Now when I see Bob again at the conference, I will think Bob Saget and know his name.
Tip 3 – Ask Questions and Listen
The other sound people like to hear is their own voice. Most people enjoy talking about themselves, and I am fortunate that I LOVE learning about people. For me, meeting someone new is like reading a new book. You never know what you are going to read next, and I enjoy the excitement of it. So I typically ask lots of questions and get to know people. If you meet me, there is nothing fake or artificial about me when I get to know you. I really do want to know more about you.
Also, try not to direct or steal the conversation. If someone tells you they like watching movies, try not to go on an hour-long rant about the last Spiderman movie. Follow up their statement with more questions. Remember to never assume that something is important to someone just because you think it should be. When you listen to what the person is saying, you will find out what they like.
If a person has children, yet talks about golf the whole time, don’t bring up kids the next time you talk, bring up golf. It doesn’t mean they don’t love their kids it just means they prefer to talk about golf and you want to talk about what they want to talk about.
Tip 4 – Take Notes
It’s wonderful to learn names and stories; however, you have to remember them and use them at a later date. I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night, but I know small details about people’s lives. I don’t even have to take notes; however, if you can’t remember anything, then take notes right away. A good place to put them is on the person’s business card or in their contact on your phone. Remember to note the things that the person spoke about the most and what got them excited.
Tip 5 – Follow Up – Thoughtfully
So now you have met new people, collected their contact information and taken notes on what you found out. Rather than just send a generic follow up like “Nice to meet you at FinCon…” think about ways that you can thoughtfully stay in touch with them. It may mean that you do not follow up for weeks. Maybe you see something about a golf pro online and you follow up with that golfer you met at FinCon?
If you met a content editor, send them samples of your work or fully formed pitches on what you might do. I once met the head writer of a morning show, and in my follow up to her, I sent fully formed segment ideas that she could take directly to the producers. I continue to follow up with her with these thoughts. However you follow up, make sure that it shows that you were paying attention and cared about the person you met. Your follow up is much more likely to get noticed if you do.
Tip 6 – Follow Up – Repeatedly
I joke with my hubby that I have a two-year sell-cycle. I say this because it has sometimes taken two years of thoughtful follow-ups before any actually business has developed. Just because you don’t get responses right away, don’t stop your follow up process. With many people, you have to develop a level of trust and sometimes the only way to do this is to prove yourself over time.
Always look for ways to stay in front of those contacts that you made and eventually you will become front of mind for them. If you stop after the first email or phone call, you might miss out on something big down the road. There are some contacts that have never done business with me; however, they have sent other clients or contacts my way that have. If you consistently work on your networking, your networking will one day work for you.
What are some good networking tips you have? What are some of your networking success or fail stories?
A Note from Mel: Now you all know why I think Shannon is a total badass (especially surviving 10 years of an all girls Catholic school – I only managed one and would’ve been way more screwed up if I’d stayed longer). Her good advice doesn’t just stop with networking. She recently wrote an incredible, fun book called Train Your Way to Financial Fitness that can help you get your finances in tip top shape. Check out my review of it here.