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6 Tips From A Professional Networker On Building Meaningful Relationships
You may be wondering what a professional networker does. As Head of Brand at Shapr, Mandy Menaker works on designing a better mobile networking experience for professionals. The app is making it easier than ever for people to make the right connections to set up a call, coffee, or lunch and meet face to face. Mandy embodies the spirit of Shapr by meeting professionals through the app for coffee at least once a week and says she has met over 100 new people this year. We asked her to share five tips for building meaningful connections that go beyond a first coffee and translate to mutually beneficial, long-term professional connections.
1. Keep meetings brief
Try to keep meetings with new people at 30 minutes to an hour. It is much better to want to schedule follow up conversations than to run out of good conversation topics. At the end of your coffee, if you want to keep talking, that is a great sign that this person is worth having in your network because you have things in common and bring value to one another in conversation.
No matter how you hit it off, make sure you send a polite and thoughtful follow up to everyone you meet. This email will reinforce your gratefulness for their time and create a record if you are searching for their contact in the future. However, focus your time on building deeper relationships with the people who you really connect with and want to keep talking to. Those are the people you should be scheduling follow ups with, or inviting to join you for other events.
2. Ask questions first
If you are meeting a professional through Shapr, you will already know a few of their interests and a bit about their background. However, there are many instances in which you may know nothing about a person, particularly at an industry happy hour or conference. Start by asking questions first. If you don't want to ask what someone does for a living and talking about the weather feels a bit stale, instead try a question like "So, what's your side hustle?" or "I had a crazy time getting here. What's your biggest transportation nightmare?" Either option will be a bit friendlier and start the conversation centered on the person you are chatting with. In addition, you will know much more about your new connection by the time they ask what you do, and can answer how you can help them instead of a rehearsed pitch.
3. Know what's happening in your industry
Through Shapr, I meet a lot of diverse professionals from entry level people just getting started to CEOs with three decades of experience. The job title or seniority of a match matters far less to me than what he or she brings to the conversation. I am always super open to coffee with someone who is just getting started or switching careers, and who is keeping up with industry blogs, following new trends, and excited to discuss what's happening.
If you are heading to a coffee or an event, try to read at least one interesting piece of news before you go. Get to know the key players in your industry and understand what's happening by subscribing to daily industry newsletter or following some leaders on Twitter. Then be prepared to discuss your own perspective, as well as learning from the person you are meeting about their views on what's new.
4. Ask for business cards, rather than giving them out
Especially when meeting people at events, it may be tempting to hand out a stack of business cards and evaluate success based on how many you have left. However, it's likely that your business card will end up in a pile of untouched cardboard, and eventually end up in the trash. Instead, be proactive in asking for a business card if you don't already know how to reach your contact after the conversation. When you get a minute, jot down a note on the back of the card to remember what you chatted about, or something specific such as "red hat" that will help you recall your talk.
The next day, follow up with a personal message that adds value. For example, if the conversation was centered on new marketing strategies, send an interesting article to further the dialogue. If the person mentioned they are hiring a videographer, send them the website of a videographer friend and ask if your new connection would like an introduction. Take the pressure off your connection to follow up by asking for business cards rather than giving them out, and be sure to add value in your follow up.
5. Make connections between your network
If you don't have an immediate way to collaborate with or hire someone you meet, try to make an introduction instead. For example, if you hear a friend is looking for a leadership coach to run workshops on site for their company, reach out to a few people in your network to see if they are interested. If you met two people working on similar projects, see if they'd like an intro to compare notes. Give without any expectation in return, and these connections will remember you when you do have a request or hope for an intro down the line.
6. Network often
If you want to get better at networking, get out there and practice. Think of it less as meeting business connections and more as meeting friends. An easy way to get started is by trying out Shapr, which will allow you to set up 10 interests on your profile, a short bio, and a bit of information on your goals. The app will then use a smart algorithm to show you 10-15 people each day who are in your area, share your interests, and are up for a cup of coffee. Swipe right on the profiles that interest you and suggest a time to connect when you match.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and build some meaningful connections. Start by downloading Shapr here.