One of my coaching clients was complaining recently about a networking event she attended. “It was pretty bad,” she said, “I left after only talking to four people – none of whom had any potential for me.” We’d already worked on an area of focus she liked – construction law – and she had developed her “perfect client profile” for that area. She and her assistant had identified several association events she could attend and this was the first one. It was geared to construction and seemed like the right choice. So far, so good! I asked her who, exactly, she had met. “An out-of-work project manager, an HVAC vendor, an interior designer, and someone else I can’t even remember because it wasn’t even worth asking for his card. The whole thing was a bust!” Was it, really?

I asked her what her expectations of attendance were. “To meet clients and referral sources, of course!” That’s a pretty ambitious goal for a first-time attendance at an event of an association she’d never even heard of three weeks before. Actually, that’s a pretty ambitious goal for ANY networking event.

No matter how many times I tell people what networking is meant to accomplish, no matter how much counsel I give them on managing their expectations, EVERYONE (it seems), thinks they’ll network and BOOM … clients and referral sources will beat down our door. That’s not the way it happens.

Business development is about building relationships. And relationships are built on mutual trust, credibility, and likeability. That doesn’t happen in an instant – it takes time to know someone at that level.

Networking events are designed for you to MEET people you would probably not meet in the normal course of your work day. Period. They’re like singles dances for business people. They’re like neighborhood bars on game night. The chances of your walking out of one of those events with your “soul-mate” are slim to none – and in some cases, you walk out of those convinced you have just begun a life of celibacy.

In order to make networking events work for you, remember this:

  • Meet three or four people. If you meet more, that’s okay, but remember you’re there to find quality contacts. Don’t hog someone else’s time nor allow them to hog yours. But do take enough time to find out if he or she and you might have something in common.
  • Find something in common. The number one thing you have in common, of course, is that you’re both attending the same event. But dig a little deeper – ask what they’re looking to accomplish and who they’re looking to meet there. You just might be surprised at the synergy you uncover.
  • FOLLOW-UP. The key to building relationships is not to just “LinkIn” with someone you meet. It’s about meeting after the event for coffee or lunch to further understand what the other person does, how they do it, and who they want to know. My rule is to follow-up with an e-mail no more than 72 hours after an event – and I always offer something ( a link to another event or an article I recently read that pertains to something they mentioned) in that e-mail. Most people are pretty impressed!

And my client? I recommended she follow up with the interior designer first. After all, if the designer was at a construction event, it’s a pretty good bet she doesn’t just redecorate a kitchen for someone. It’s more likely that she works with property developers to design model homes for substantial projects. And that means she knows people my client would probably like to know. It’s all about perspective and dumping our preconceived ideas about what a “good” contact is.

The bottom line is that it’s great to have Great Expectations. But you’ll be happier if you manage those for networking events. Meeting people and expanding your visibility are good enough goals for networking events. The hard work of building relationships starts there – it doesn’t end there.

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