Blog post by Whitney Harmel
Whitney Harmel is the director of strategic partnerships at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. Through her career history and past role as chair of the Emerging Leaders United Council, she has over a decade of sales, leadership, and relationship-building experience.
I didn’t network in my twenties—but wish I had.
I remember walking into a room of 300 people on a cold January night and I didn’t know a single person. I had just turned 31 and nothing about networking felt right. I was in a room full of people my age but found myself standing alone in the corner, not sure how I was going to move past my fear. I felt paralyzed.
Then, I forced myself to keep going. I needed to find out where my place was in this town, in this city, in this state. Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? I came to the realization that making connections with others would be helpful in answering these questions. And so, I made networking a priority.
You’ve come a long way, baby.
After six months of making it my mission to go to every single networking event with one particular group, I looked around one night and realized…I now knew almost everyone in the room. No longer standing alone in the corner, I had people coming up to me now, asking me to introduce them to others. As cliche as it sounds, it’s amazing what can happen when you push past your fears. Here’s what I learned:
#10 GET IN LINE
Whether you’re grabbing a water or a glass of wine, get in line and strike up a conversation with the person beside you. Period. You’re stuck there. Don’t look at your phone, converse with somebody and make the connection.
#9 FIND THE LONE WOLF
We’ve all been the one alone in the corner. If you see somebody standing by themselves, go up and talk to them. That’s an instant connection you can make because that person may also not know where to start. I encourage you to just walk up and talk to them, believe me they want you to.
#8 KNOW HOW TO CLOSE
There is an art to disconnecting from a conversation at a networking event. Learn the art of recognizing when to move on, figure out what that looks like for you.
#7 SET A GOAL
No matter how many people you know at an event, make it a point to meet at least one new person. You could be walking into a room where you know the majority of the people, you could be walking in not knowing a soul—either way, set a goal of meeting one new person each time.
#6 KNOW THE GROUP
If a huge crowd is too much for you, find a smaller, more purposeful networking group. It can be in the shape of a dinner party, a backyard barbeque, or a hiking group you found through a meet-up online (if hiking’s your thing)—it can be anything, really!
#5 KNOW THY SELF
Know your value. Know who you are. Know how to let your personality and your passion shine when talking about what you do. Leave it up to the other person to ask more detailed questions. If you’re a young entrepreneur or a young business owner—it is incredibly difficult to start your own business and sustain that business long-term. At the early stages, you’re ripe. Sell your passion over selling a product. Your product doesn’t have a track record yet, so you can’t sell it. You’re selling your passion for your product.
#4 DON’T CARD AT THE DOOR
Don’t just walk-up to someone and hand them a business card. I hate that, so do most people.
#3 DON’T BOX YOURSELF IN
Expand your horizons and attend events where a diverse group of industries will be present. There’s a lot of cross-pollination in business, so think outside of the box on the types of events you attend. You’ll ultimately end up with a valuable and diverse network.
#2 PLANT THE SEED, THEN GROW
What do you bring to the table? Maybe you’re still early in your career and don’t have a ton to contribute—that’s okay. It could be inspiration from someone you connect with that enables your growth!
#1 RETURN THE FAVOR
Once you’re the person who knows everyone in the room, start connecting those around you. When you introduce two people, what do you think is the first thing they’ll talk about? You! Become a connector and your network will flourish.
Soon, you too will be well on your way to developing meaningful connections that will feel second nature to you. Overall, I encourage you to challenge yourself, have fun, but keep building your relationships—it’s vital.
Put these tips to use at our next Executive Referral Group happy hour!! It is all about network building, sign-up today!
Read all the business to business blog posts: #MDCCB2B