After learning how NOT to network for the past 11 years post-college, I think I’m starting to figure it out. Not to say I was terrible at networking, I just didn't have a system or a process in place. I was meeting lots of people, connecting with them on LinkedIn, and.... well, that was it. No follow up. No value add. No momentum. Ultimately, a lack of solid connections.

And by no means is this system perfect. In fact, I'm hoping someone will comment and tell me what I'm missing, because I'm sure there is something. But, I think if you follow this system you will start making connections that you didn't think were possible. 

Before you go out and start regurgitating your business cards all over everyone, it might be prudent to know the answers to these questions. 

  • What are your long term goals?
  • What is your company’s value proposition?
  • What makes you different from your competition?
  • Why should people want to know you?
  • What type of people do you want to meet?
  • What are you working on that people will find interesting?

Once you can confidently answer these questions, with ZERO hesitation, you're ready to move on. Here are some tips on how to network like a boss:

Join industry-related and non-industry related organizations
The first step is to start meeting as many people as possible, and joining organizations or meet-up groups is a great way to get yourself out there. Meeting people is just like a sales funnel; the more people you meet, the better chance you give yourself to connect with the right people. 

If you are headed to a networking event, get a copy of the invite list
If there is an invite or sign-up list, get your hands on this bad boy and study it before you head to the event. If the list is super long, at least skim it to see who might be in attendance so you can be prepared. And hold on to the list in case you meet people and don’t get a chance to exchange contact info. 

Find ways to add value
Once you’ve made a connection that you think will be valuable (either directly or as a link to someone else) it’s time to load them up with some value bombs. And there are lots of different ways to do this: Send them valuable content about their industry or a competitor, send them a lead, introduce them to someone in your network they should know, or simply ask them what they are working on and how can you help them. 

Offer to buy lunch or coffee
Once you’ve added some value, offer to buy your new friend lunch or coffee. The only way you are going to build a real relationship is by spending time away from the office and away from a computer screen. 

Ask for introductions
Now that you’re at lunch with your new best bud, ask if there is anyone in their network you can help. Not just someone you should know (which is basically asking selfishly), but someone you can HELP. Be sure to return the favor too! 

Write thank you notes
After lunch or coffee, write your new connection a handwritten thank you note. I like to have it sent the same day so they receive it the day following your meeting. 

Set a recurring reminder to follow up
This should be a monthly or quarterly reminder to touch base with your new compadre. If you miss this step, all the previous hard work will be totally lost. Most of these follow ups can be simple, like a text about a game or a project. And once or twice a year offer to buy lunch or coffee again. Remember, you need to have some face to face time or the relationship will eventually fade away into oblivion. 

Build all of this into a system
Everything I do has a system or a process behind it. And networking is no exception. Make sure when you meet people, they go into your CRM immediately, and then create activity reminders to do everything this article discusses. If you want to be a master networker, have this system set up and will you rock it, no doubt in my mind!

Who can I introduce you to in my network?