Informal networking for pleasure and (maybe) profit

Clients have been asking a lot of questions lately about networking. Whenever you have an opportunity to meet people, it’s a networking opportunity. If you expand your thinking beyond business networking, you’ll find that you can make useful connections just about anywhere. That means that you could bring back more than shells from your next beach vacation, if (and only if) you have a plan in place that will let you connect with people in a friendly way that opens the door to business conversation if appropriate. Here’s how you do that… 

First, keep your eyes open for opportunity. Especially since so many people are on smartphones and tablets all the time, it’s easy to miss a good connection. And if you’re open to talking with others, you may find that reading a newspaper or magazine makes you more approachable than reading the same thing on a device. Because this is casual networking, don’t try to be strategic about the people with whom you’re talking. Unless you’re in a pre-selected group of people, you’ll find it difficult (if not impossible) to isolate someone who’s ideal for your business purposes.

Make your overture. Your opener doesn’t need to be special or memorable, fortunately. Try ordinary openers like, “First time at this resort?” “How’s the coffee here?” or even a simple greeting. Remember how you meet people when you’re just being friendly? Do that.

Ask questions in a curious (but not prying) way. Your goal in asking questions is to find a point of connection. That might be business, but more likely you’ll start with a personal connection, like a shared hometown, kids who are the same age, or a spouse who begged off whatever you’re doing to spend the day by the pool. A caveat here: don’t be the person who starts off by asking, “So, what do you do?” It doesn’t matter whether you’re at your child’s soccer game or at a resort in Fiji, that question is more likely to close conversation than to open it.

Keep this quote in mind:

At some point, work will probably come up naturally in the conversation. If not, there’s no harm in asking.

If you discover a potential business connection, share what you’ve found and suggest continuing the conversation at a later time. Share enough to pique curiosity (the nature of your mutual interest, how you might benefit each other, what you might be able to offer), and then suggest a later telephone conversation or meeting for business conversation. Although it will occasionally be appropriate to talk business in the moment, more often you’ll find too much other activity nearby and a lack of privacy.  Here’s more on how to handle this stage of the conversation

Be sure to get contact information for follow-up, and where it’s appropriate, follow up as soon as reasonably possible. If you’re vacationing, you might wait until you get home, but if you bumped into someone new at your child’s camp or at a friend’s barbeque night, send a quick email or LinkedIn connection (with a personalized introduction!) within 48 hours.

If you don’t discover a business connection but you enjoy the person, keep talking. Perhaps you won’t find any business benefit from the connection, but you might be able to make a useful introduction to someone else, or maybe you’ll just make a new friend or pass a pleasant few minutes chatting. That’s the beauty of informal networking.

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