A few months ago I wrote a blog about networking groups and provided ideas for bringing the energy back. In the past nine months, life has been pretty hectic with the arrival of our daughter (and the real CEO of Gem PR & Media) Olivia. This has meant that at times we have had to miss out on networking opportunities as, although Gem PR & Media is a priority, family comes first. I know many of you will agree. 

Networking is extremely important when you’re developing a client base from scratch. Even several years after launching your new venture, you need to get out there and meet business owners and entrepreneurs. Through networking, you have the opportunity to spread your message, tell people about what you do, how and why, and build relationships and contacts. So, last week I decided to make an effort to attend, in a single day (not an unusual activity pre-Miss Olivia), our Central Illinois Networking Group meeting, a Springfield BNI chapter, and the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce after hours event. 

I’ve always loved networking. After years of acting classes from an early age, I don’t generally fear walking into a room of people I don’t know. But, it’s been a while since I did that. So, I put on my lippy and heels and headed on up to the 14th floor of the Crowne Plaza. 

I was one of the first there. I walked on over to the viewing area where a few people had gathered to observe Springfield from a height and struck up a conversation with a young girl from AT&T. In her early 20s, I was reminded of my early networking years – being the newbie in the room (or on the rooftop) and how just one person that came across to say ‘hello’ helped my confidence. We chatted for a while until a connection I had met at the lunchtime meeting came across to say ‘hi’ and joined us in conversation. This gave me the opportunity to further develop the professional relationship I had begun to nurture earlier that day. Adding another person to your conversation also helps it progress and change direction, which is helpful if you’re struggling for topics, after the initial introduction.
I think the biggest takeaway from networking all these years is to make sure you don’t just talk about yourself, but listen to and engage with the person you are meeting. 

I stayed at the after-hours event for a while, handed out a few business cards, and then left feeling pretty satisfied. The heels came off and flip-flops went on as soon as I got in the car of course. 
The following morning I took out the collection of business cards I’d gathered and began writing follow-up emails – thanking the BNI chapter for having me, reminding them about and Junk In Your Trunk For A Cause, and mentioning I’d hope to see them again soon. Another thing I came to realize while developing our business is the importance of follow-up. Never forget to follow-up with a new connection. I admire those who do it over the phone. I usually send an email. 

Now, I didn’t do this – although I thought about and wish I had, why not take a selfie with your new connections too. Post on your social media business profiles and tag your new ‘friends’ in. This will also encourage them to like and engage with your online platforms. But don’t worry if you forget, you’ll do it next time. 

It’s never too late to network – or get back to it. If you’ve lost the enthusiasm, or haven’t simply had the time to do so, throw yourself in when you get your next chance. It’s a bit like riding a bike – once you get back on you’ll remember how. If time is an issue I recommend picking one day out of the week and devoting that day to networking. It’s hard to concentrate when you get back to the office because often you need to follow-up on the emails, calls etc. that you’ve missed. So know that it’s ok because tomorrow you’ll get time at your desk. Make those networking moments count. Don’t forget to take business cards, always follow-up, and get the next event in your calendar.