Every business person knows the importance of networking as a key contributor to success. And perhaps in no business is it as important as in the special events and hospitality industry, where so many of our relationships are initiated and maintained by networking.
As we become more seasoned in our careers, there are more connections for networking. But at the same time, there seems to be less time, as we are busier with our success.
So, how do you get the attention of the people with whom you really want to network, when they are just as busy--or more--than you?
The traditional way has typically been to invite a person to coffee or connect with them on LinkedIn. And while these strategies are not necessarily "wrong," they are more entry-level in their approach and are not as effective for people who are at the top of their careers.
Before we talk about what does work for successful people, let's back up and take a look at a concept developed years ago called inbound marketing--a concept that is still relevant today. It is the practice of creating content that has value through articles and updates that draw customers directly to you, as opposed to the old sales practice of "cold calling" or paid advertising, which are all based on a gamble of waiting to see a return on casting a reel into a pond and hoping for a nibble.
Like "inbound marketing," networking today is facing a similar turning point. Successful, prominent leaders in business now know that you need to network differently in order to stand out. They know that the key is attracting key people to you with "inbound networking."
Here are my top three steps to take to ensure successful inbound networking:
1. Identify what sets your business apart.
Finding something in common with your targeted ideal connection for networking is easy, but finding a way to capture their interest with something that is exotic and foreign to them is what will attract them to you. For example, as a Certified Wedding Professional in a room full of wedding planners at a national wedding planner conference, I might not be very interesting. But at conference of hoteliers where I am launching a service that saves time for catering and sales directors and is guaranteed to make them more money, I might be a sought-after conversation partner.
2. Become the center of the network.
This requires one to already be in a powerful position. The theory is that the best way to get invited to the party is to host the party.
Create the networking opportunity and feature key influencers in guest speaker/presenter capacities. This will allow you to approach peers with whom you want to network but who would not normally spend time with you. At some point, you will start receiving requests for invitations to attend your party/event because word gets out that you are the best, and they will want to network with the best you have assembled.
3. Become a connoisseur.
Nothing commands more respect or intrigue than someone who is truly an expert at something. If someone is drawn to a topic on which you are knowledgeable, it is almost guaranteed you will move to the top of that person’s list. And nothing draws other leaders than difference.
A great example of this is the partnership of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. They could have had lengthy conversations about business, but what cemented their bond was their mutual expertise and seriousness about the card game bridge, which eventually led to Buffett's decision to entrust billions to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
There are many ways to network and as society evolves, so does the need to be authentic. No matter what type of networking you choose, make it efficient, relevant and honest. If you infuse these elements into every contact while building community, you are bound for success.
Kerry Lee Doehr is CEO/founder and CEO of event planning business Santa Barbara Wine Country Weddings and Events as well as Engaging Inspiration, a business dedicated to marketing, events and training for the special event and hospitality professional. She is committed to progress in the industry that goes beyond trend and design, saying, "Who we are and how we handle ourselves ethically is more of a barometer to business longevity and branding than all the money in the world spent on advertising."