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Jun 01 2018
8 Tips for Networking Like a Pro
Melissa Mickelsen, CCE, Geneva Rock Products

Admittedly, I've never felt very comfortable networking. It can feel awkward, daunting and forced. But networking is a great way to achieve a myriad of goals. It can help provide new ideas and insights. It can lead to new customers, mentors and friends. It's a great way to find potential job opportunities. It can result in increased job performance as you learn from others and their experiences. And networking can help build confidence as you leave your comfort zone and form new relationships.

Looking ahead to this year's NACM Credit Congress in Phoenix and NACM Western Region Credit Conference in Salt Lake City, I decided a little research into the topic might be in order as both events provide excellent opportunities for networking. Below are several tips I found that might be helpful if you, like me, are intimidated by the idea of networking.

1. You're Not Alone

Remember that everyone else is probably feeling a little scared and hesitant too. We're all human, and striking up conversations with random strangers may not come naturally to most of us. There's comfort in knowing you're not alone in your fears, and keeping this in mind may help you relax and feel more confident.

2. It's Not All About You

Networking should not be about what other people can do for you. Instead focus on what you can do to help others. Your goal is to build connections. Don't dismiss someone who may not provide an immediate benefit to you. You may have something to offer them, and you never know what they might have to offer down the road. You might also be able to help others build valuable connections as your network grows.

3. Put Your Best Foot Forward

Be polite and friendly. Put your phone away and look open and engaged. You won't meet anyone if you're standing in the corner staring at your phone. Smile and look people in the eye. Dress appropriately so you feel confident and comfortable. If you drink, go easy on the alcohol. And it never hurts to pop a breath mint now and then.

4. Get Out There

You can't network if you're not putting yourself in situations where you'll meet people. At conferences, take full advantage of social events, breaks and buffet lines. Consider arriving early to breakout sessions or talks and begin conversations with those around you (you'll have an easy out once the session starts if the conversation isn't going well.) If you're feeling hesitant, make a game out of it - decide to talk to everyone wearing a particular color.

5. Ask and Listen

When you meet a new contact, ask open ended questions and then really listen to the responses. Show genuine interest. Ask people about the things they love and what brings them joy. Ask people how they ended up working in credit. Avoid questions with yes or no answers. Not all networking conversations have to be strictly about work. But be careful not to conduct interviews. Share your experiences and insight as well when they fit into the conversation.

6. Give and Take

Keep business cards with you and initiate a business card exchange when you'd like to keep in touch. After the interaction, you may want to take notes on the back of the other person's card to help you remember specifics about your conversation. Ensure your card has up to date contact information, and if desired and appropriate, information about connecting with you on social media.

7. Keep in Touch

After meeting a new contact, make a concerted effort to keep in touch one way or another. You may want to send an email thanking the individual for the time they spent with you. This is also a good time to schedule a follow up phone call or meeting. You may want to connect on LinkedIn, Twitter or other online platforms. Be sure to include a personal message when making online connections. Whether following up via email, telephone, or online, consider mentioning something specific that you discussed in your first meeting. You may also find occasional opportunities to send them an article they'd find interesting or share information that might be helpful.

8. Follow Up

Be sure to follow up on any commitments you've made to help others. If you've promised to put your contact in touch with someone else, schedule a meeting or send information, make sure to do it promptly. And when a contact provides help to you, always thank them.

Networking can be a fun, interesting and rewarding way to develop relationships, gain insights, advance your career or build your customer base. A little planning, preparation and practice can make the process comfortable and enjoyable. Just don't forget the breath mints!