Chief Relationship Officer
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Aaahhh … the crisp weather, holiday parties, and greeting card lists — it must be December. People — even the most avid networkers – often take their focus off their networking strategy during the holidays. To do so is a grave mistake — it is one of the most critical times to maintain top of mind awareness. Regardless of what you do for a living, your future success in today’s relationship-driven economy depends on the number of quality contacts you have and how often you make contact with them.
For job searchers, many hiring decisions are placed on hold until after the holidays. Many people put off buying decisions because it is the end of the budget year or because they are focused on the task of holiday purchases. However, when the decision makers roll back into the office after the holidays, they have a new sense of focus and often a new set of goals and resolutions – they are suddenly inspired to pick up the phone and act.
The most skilled networkers often find that they have to make hard choices because they have conflicting commitments. The trend for holiday events is now for them to be pushed up into November and early December because there were so many conflicts around mid-December. However, everyone got the same idea and now there are fewer formal networking events in December. It creates a complicated situation for the inexperienced networker who relies on those events for their networking activities.
Here are some tips for creative networking during the winter holidays so that you maintain top-of-mind-awareness on January 2.
If you aren’t doing a holiday newsletter currently, this is an outstanding time to start. They don’t have to be elaborate but people are really interested in what is going on with you and it’s a nice change from the plain greeting card. If you are shopping for a job change, this is a great place to tell people what kind of job you are looking for. If you own a business or are in a sales role, mention what you do and who your target client is. Your greeting card list — especially your family members — is full of your biggest fans. They want to help you succeed but they often don’t know the information that can help them refer you.
There has never been an easier time to bring up a website for your holiday newsletter. I include mine on my company website. I’ve discovered that once I get the reader to my website, they are often inspired to browse the other information out there too. A website newsletter provides unlimited space too for photos, news, resumes, and more. Depending on your company, you may want a public newsletter link where anyone who visits your website can check out what your company is doing — customer results, success stories, new products, or community service projects that employees are doing. You can also have a more hidden link for your personal contacts so that they still end up on your website.
No website? Bring up a MySpace page if you don’t already have one and send your newsletter readers there. Adults are beginning to use FaceBook more as well. This is also a great time to create or update your LinkedIn or Classmates.com profile. Networking in the digital age is all about web presence. Google your name and see how many places you show up on the Internet.
Now I know some critics are saying — what about security issues? Of course, be careful. Duh. However, your information isn’t as private as you think. Type in your phone number in Google or Yahoo and you’ll get a map to where you live. Our children today are putting the full names, addresses, and more on their Facebook pages. You have to evaluate the risks and protect yourself during even the simplest transactions.
Regardless of how we celebrate the holidays in December, we have opportunities to attend gatherings with people outside our normal circles. In networking, number of contacts equates to power. By approaching these activities with networking goals and an agenda in mind, you can make these events more enjoyable and productive.
I set a goal to meet five new people at every event I attend and have a brief conversation with them. It is so tempting to settle in and talk to people I already know — especially if I haven’t seen them in awhile. I will often greet those I know right away and then break away quickly to accomplish my goal. Once I meet my five new people, I spend more time with those people I already know.
Maybe you aren’t a social butterfly and these parties seem more like an evening in a torture chamber. Looking back at my corporate career, I missed the opportunity to talk to people I didn’t know at the company’s divisional get-togethers. When you engage in meaningful conversation with new people — or even people you think you know, you can learn new things about each other that can be beneficial. You can get connected to new friends, fun hobbies, fulfilling community service opportunities, new job opportunities, and new clients. Normal daily office transactions (and even some of the usual networking socials) often don’t give us the opportunity to get to know people at a deeper level — but that deeper level is where real business relationships are forged. The responsibility lies with us to take the responsibility for leading the conversation. Don’t know what to say? Click here to read my e-zine article on making meaningful conversation called The Language of the Power Networker.
If you arrive early, you’ll meet more people. You will also get a chance to connect with people during the most critical point at any potential networking opportunity — it is what I call the Gold Zone. That is the first 20 percent of the event. People are less likely to settle into their clusters or cliques before that time so it is easier to engage them in quality conversation.
You can position yourself as the greeter or the host (because the real host is probably busy with event details). Reaching out to welcome people as they arrive makes even the shyest people feel like they have a role to play instead of just standing by the wall clutching a beverage.
Arriving early is the best strategy when you are faced with an event that serves alcohol. You can get some quality networking in before anyone gets too relaxed and forgetful. Just remember to follow up with anyone you meet within 24 to 48 hours afterwards to remind them that you met. Skip the alcohol yourself or definitely stop at one drink. Anytime I’m networking, I consider that a business meeting and I wouldn’t drink alcohol at a business meeting. There are always some special considerations, of course, but in general, use caution with alcohol. You just never know what is going to turn off your next potential client or boss.
There is often a greater tendency to forget the people we meet during the holidays. Sometimes the holiday amnesia is caused by the overwhelming number of obligations in December. Other times, the very presence of alcohol at the holiday parties fogs memories. People may not remember you, but following up in 24 to 48 hours after the party will help refresh their memory.
Perhaps you don’t have business cards because you have a job that doesn’t require it. You still need some personal cards. Just go to www.VistaPrint.com. Use their cool templates to design some inexpensive and professional looking cards.
Networking is as much about giving as receiving. When you are engaging in meaningful conversation, you not only find out what connections people have that will help you – you also find out what needs other people have. There is no better gift that you can give one of your business contacts than a nice warm lead — truly the Gift of Networking. Think of it as matchmaking — if you connected your best friend to her future mate, you’d be a hero. It’s the same thing in business — someone who is looking for a new employee loves to have referrals to job searchers who you would bet your reputation on. You have corporate friends who need referrals for businesses that provide great customer service — connect them so that it saves them time, money, or hassle and you are a hero. All it takes to give the gift of networking is to be in the right place and take a genuine interest in those around you.
Enjoy your holidays and look at the whirlwind of activities as a
great opportunity to build your business relationships. You will benefit
and you will also discover ways to benefit others. Relationships really
are the currency of business today and making new contacts is it starts.
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