"It's not what you know, it's who you know," the old saying goes. And that's the basis of networking. . .making contacts that will help you in your professional career, now and for many years to come.

"The people you know and the referrals from them are the most valuable marketing techniques available," says Becky Mangus, president of Mangus & Associates Communications and a partner in Marketing Solutions Unlimited in Ellicott City. "And also among the least expensive." So important is networking to "growing" a career, that the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce has sponsored workshops on the subject, led by Carla Lee, sales manager for R.L. Cook & Associates, Inc., local licensee of Dale Carnegie Training in Timonium. As part of your networking effort, Ms. Lee recommends that you start off by reading the following books: How To Work A Room, by Susan Roane; Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty, by Harvey McKay; and, of course, How To Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie, since "people skills are an essential part of networking," says Ms. Lee.

When attending a professional event, Ms. Lee recommends these "fundamentals of networking":
  • Set a goal for the number of new contacts you want.
  • Spend two-thirds of your time with people you do not know.
  • Find out about the other person before talking about yourself.
  • Establish rapport.
  • Write notes on the back of the other person's business card.
  • Immediately and always follow up.
  • Have a 30-second "commercial" ready.
  • Show up early.
  • Stand close to the entrance at the beginning and end of the event.
  • Always place your name tag on your right-hand side.
  • Approach with the appropriate attitude.
Another tip to remember, says Becky Mangus, is "you're not alone." "Most people are truly anxious before walking into a room full of strangers," she says. "But remember that you have something to offer these people--information, advice, leads, etc." It also might help ease your anxiety to think of yourself as the host of the event, adds Ms. Mangus. "You would never allow someone in your home without making him or her comfortable. Transfer that attitude to the event you are attending." Another tip--"Mingle means move," Ms. Mangus asserts. "The essence of networking is to 'work a room.' Visit briefly with as many people as possible--and, of course, say a quick hello to your old friends. This is an opportunity to make contacts; your follow-up stage is the time to 'sell.'"

Indeed, follow-up is almost as important as networking, says Ms. Mangus; in fact, it should be considered part of the networking process. After meeting a contact and writing the date, event, and any pertinent information on the back of the other person's business card, follow these tips, says Ms. Mangus: *Write a "great to meet you" letter to all the people you meet and/or make a personal phone call. *Reach out. . .try at least once a month to contact old acquaintances and friends and plan to meet for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even just for a cup of coffee. Then call one of the people you have just met and invite him or her out as well. *Mind your manners. When calling someone, ask if it's a good time to talk. Don't forget to thank everyone who has given you a lead with a quick phone call, or a brief handwritten note. As always, there are some DON'Ts you should keep in mind as well, says Ms. Mangus. "These can be real 'turn-offs.'"
  • "Put-down" humor
  • Drinking too much
  • Monopolizing someone's time
  • Dressing inappropriately
  • Smoking
  • Pre-judging people by their job title
  • Giving a "hard" sell
  • Not following through when you make a promise
  • Complaining
  • Getting too personal by asking or offering too much information
Once you get the hang of networking, though, says Ms. Mangus, it will no longer seem like a chore. In fact, not only will it help you in your professional growth, but you will actually enjoy meeting new people and having an opportunity to continually expand your contacts.

Written By: Carol Sorgen
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