Are you a good networker, even a great one? Do you invest plenty of time in LinkedIn, steadily building your contacts and sharing posts and other information with the group? Are you a faithful tweeter? Do you tend to see the possibilities in people, wanting to meet them instead of worrying about wasting your time?
If this describes you, we are likeminded souls. But the problem with this general approach to networking, as I’ve found, is that things don’t seem to go anywhere in particular.
I have had countless pleasant meetings and phone calls with people who I’ve met through LinkedIn, Brazen Careerist or another social network. And more often than not, because the meeting lacked an agenda, we’ve come away having had a friendly conversation…but nothing more. Why? Because we (me included) didn’t do enough homework and thinking in advance to make the meeting worthwhile.
So now I’ve changed my approach, and I’m finding that my meetings are, well, a lot “meatier” Here is what I’ve found to be useful:
Do Your Homework
Certainly this is easy enough to do in our cyberstalking world! See what you can dig up prior to the meeting so you have a sense of what your acquaintance’s proclivities, interests and needs might be. Do they have an area of expertise you would like to acquire but are deficient where you thrive? Do they target a similar audience as you? Do they target an audience that you really want? Do they have a blog you could guest post for? Are there goods or services you can barter? Contacts for your business?
Come Armed and Generous
Come to the meeting with a few (loose) ideas on how you might help each other. See if you like one another, if the conversation flows easily, if you enjoy the time. If all goes well and you have a meeting of the minds, share your ideas on how you can help that person and/or what you’d like from them.
Be generous with ideas and contacts and it will come back to you many times over. People appreciate an openness of spirit and a willingness to collaborate. Tim Sanders referenced this great quote from Stanley Marcus Jr. in a blog post: “You will never get dumber by making someone else smarter.”
Create a Deadline for Next Steps
Don’t leave the meeting without arranging your next appointment to either flesh out your ideas, deliver or receive something. This makes the whole enterprise more serious than simply, “I’d like to stay in touch.”
If you’re not sure what the next steps are, you can always say: “I’ll follow up with you in a week once I’ve had the chance to digest our discussion.” Keep the onus on you to make an informed decision about whether to collaborate with this person in the future. Otherwise, what you’ll be left with is a bunch of LinkedIn connections you’ve taken the time to build that won’t make much of a difference in your business or your life.