This last weekend, I had the privilege to attend a workshop by Ann marie Houghtailing,  called Networking that Works. Many of you may know her as an instructor at USD, Institute for Sales & Business Development. She is also Principle at Houghtailing Group, a boutique Sales Consulting and Business Development Firm. If you ever have the opportunity to hear her speak, I highly recommend it.

Her motivational talk reinforced many of the principles that I had to learn the hard way years ago as a sales rep in the commercial printing industry. All I ever heard was “It’s all about the relationship”. But no one could give me any insight into how to accomplish that “relationship”. I sure wish someone like Ann had been around for me back then to shorten my learning curve!

But her talk also reminded me that with this economic downturn, and thousands of us losing our jobs, networking is even more than just a selling tool. Besides helping you build that new business venture you’ve just launched–it’s also about meeting people who can help you find that new career or business venture idea. Or perhaps you can find a mentor who will be invaluable in helping you make your dream job a reality. We can learn much from other successful people. Networking is a natural compliment to Social Media and rounds out your marketing tools and skills.

With all of that in mind, I decided to share many of the networking principles that I’ve found helpful through the years, especially since losing my own job back in 2009. It was through Social Media and online research that I discovered the niche Social Media Managing, realized I already possessed many of the necessary skills, found courses to round out my expertise, and guides to launch my business. But it was the one-on-one networking that gave me the opportunity to meet people face to face and talk about their wants and needs. I found answers to my questions of how to best service my future clients.

Learning to network properly encompasses many factors – too many for this one blog, so I will be breaking this into five blogs. Today let’s start at the beginning:

Choosing which Networking Groups to Attend & Planning your Strategies.
There are literally thousands of networking groups and events in major cities to choose from. You could drive yourself crazy trying to attend everything that appears relevant–and ultimately not accomplish anything. Time is money for all of us. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Making Choices:
• Establish your intent before looking for networking events or groups to join. Know what your goals and purposes are for attending. And don’t make it the pat answer of “to meet new people”. This sounds like a given, but how many of us actually do this exercise before we start the process?

• Qualify each option before jumping aboard. Does the topic fit that purpose or goal you set for your business or job search?

• Research the event or group. Research the speaker or event leader(s). Do they have the expertise or qualifications to speak on this subject?

Planning Your Strategy:
• Decide whom you want to meet at the event and what you want to get out of the event.

• Think about what impression you want to leave with people you meet – how can you best accomplish your goal?

• If possible, ask if key people will be attending. Think about how best to approach them.

• Look for events your competition may not be attending, but you can. Put yourself among the demographic that you want to have contact with, without hundreds of competitors going after the same people at the same time.

With some planning and goal setting previous to the events, you’ll have a higher change of success and garner what you want from your forays into the networking world.

Watch for my next blog: Networking Part II – The Rules of Engagement