By Jennie Wong The Charlotte Observer.
Networking is one of those things that always sounds like a good concept. After all, what business person doesn't want to meet potential customers, or even future employers?
And right now is high season for connecting with people. My inbox is starting to fill with myriad holiday invites from industry groups, personal friends, and half-forgotten acquaintances.
So how can you sort through all of the networking opportunities coming your way and decide which are worth the time, effort, and business cards? Here are five suggestions to help get you focused:
No. 1: Embrace tradition Have you found yourself at the same holiday networking event the last couple of years in a row? Congratulations, you have a tradition! We live in a fast-changing world, yet we crave stable touchstones from year to year. Feed that part of your soul by consciously making and keeping networking traditions. Maybe it's a specific industry party that you go to every year or, in my case, an "As Seen on TV" gift exchange with my husband's college buddies. Whatever the group or venue, think of these stalwart events as the comfort food of your December social calendar.
No. 2: Try something new On the flip side of that, I also recommend checking out at least one new networking opportunity. Whenever I see an interesting meetup or speaker being advertised, I'll forward it to someone I want to hang out with and ask, "Wanna go with me?" New events can be risky (like the time I thought I was going to mingle with other business owners and found myself beset by consultant-types selling services instead), so bringing along someone you know you want to network with is a great strategy. If it's a great event, they'll be grateful that you brought them along. If it's a bust, at least you can talk to each other.
No. 3: Be generous One of the best things about holiday networking is that it often provides an opportunity to have a good time while helping a good cause. This season is filled with charity events and campaigns (such as one local wine bar's "Will Drink for Toys" promotion) that really put the "fun" in fundraiser. So put yourself in the networking spirit by participating in an event that benefits a cause that is near and dear to you. If you have a heart for the homeless or music enrichment for children or shelter animals, make the time to show up for them this month. When you start with your highest values, you'll find that you don't have to drag yourself out of the office to get there, and you'll easily meet new acquaintances among a group of like-minded people.
No. 4: Look ahead In addition to being altruistic, be a little strategic. What are your business goals for 2015? What do you need to learn, or who do you need to meet to achieve those goals? Most of the other entrepreneurs I know are genuinely supportive of one another and I get asked all the time, "How can I help?" Personally, I need to bone up on strategic partnerships, so I've been putting the word out to my existing contacts. And sure enough, I got a hit a couple of weeks ago when a friend put me in touch with someone with extensive experience in this area. You can call it luck, but I prefer the concept of "Luck Surface Area," a turn of phrase coined by podcaster Jason Roberts, which boils down to increasing your chances of luck finding you by effectively communicating what you're working on to lots and lots of people. So while you're thanking your favorite vendor for the fruit basket, don't be shy about mentioning the intros that will help you the most next year.
No. 5: DIY And finally, remember to be a host once in a while, and not always a guest. If you love to entertain in your personal life, consider that transferable skill for building your business via a well-planned soiree. You'll have full control of the guest list, allowing you to kill several birds with one stone, including chatting up warm leads, repaying invitations you've accepted throughout the year, and introducing contacts to one another. And even if you don't consider yourself a host with the most, think about organizing something easy and casual. You can ease into DIY holiday networking with something as low-key as a bagels and coffee open house at your office. –––– ABOUT THE WRITER Jennie Wong is an executive coach, author of the e-book "Ask the Mompreneur" and the creator of the product quiz website www.ABorC.com