Hate professional networking? You’re not alone. Unless you’re the eternal extrovert, some people find the networking experience intimidating and phony; from the elevator pitches to the “Hi my name is” stickers, it can be a bit of a drag. But did you ever stop to think, perhaps that’s because you’re going about it the wrong way?Let’s face it, networking is a necessity. Research tells us that building a professional network leads to new opportunities, new customers, an improved capacity to innovate, and greater status within your industry. Knowing the right people can also help you keep current when it comes to new trends, emerging manufacturing technologies or potential industry disruptors entering the scene. So, even if you’re getting by without networking, think about how much better you could be doing with it!
Let’s get started. First, it’s important to develop a networking strategy.
Determine your reasons for networking
Love it or loathe it, networking can benefit your company. But before walking into a room full of your peers without a plan or purpose, it’s important to understand where networking can benefit your company most and what you hope to achieve. Are you looking to...
- Identify new business opportunities?
- Gain new clients or customers?
- Promote your company or products?
- Grow your market and industry knowledge?
- Meet other players within your industry?
- Create contacts with suppliers?
- Find potential new hires/talent?
- Learn about the latest tools and technology?
- All of the above?
Prioritize and set a networking budget
There’s a good chance you answered “all of the above” in the previous exercise. However, you probably can’t do it all; after all, expos and events cost money. Plus, if they’re not nearby or even in California, you’ll need to consider airfare, hotel, and other travel expenses. Prioritize your reasons, choosing the top three that are the most likely to benefit your business, and then create your budget. The budget is important because once there’s actual money set aside for your networking strategy, you’ll be more likely to engage in a networking event.
Match events to employees
There are many types of networking events, from huge expos with keynote speakers to smaller, more intimate affairs. If you’re an introvert, you may prefer the smaller setting; or as an extrovert, you can glad-hand with the best of them at the big events.
Depending on what you hope to achieve by networking, you also may opt to send a key player from your company; if your goal is to promote products, you may want to send someone from the product development team; if your goal it to attract new hires, you may want to send someone from human resources. Of course, if you’re the face of the company, it’s good to attend networking events yourself if you can—but bringing along a right-hand man or woman may make the experience a more comfortable one (an extra attendee means more money, so aren’t you glad you set that budget?)
Determine who you need to meet
Your networking strategy shouldn’t consist of “attend networking event.” In fact, it doesn’t always require attending an event at all (phew, you might be thinking). Rather, you need to look closely at who you need to meet to grow your contacts and set reasonable and attainable goals with a specific number attached. For example:
- Reason to network: Find new customers
- Action items:
- Ask 15 main customers for referrals or introductions
- Develop better relationships with 10 potential customers
- Make a list of 10 business owners I want to meet
- Reason to network: Learn more about the market
- Action items:
- Ask 5 main customers for feedback on my products
- Talk to 3 existing suppliers about new and emerging products
- Research 3 competitors to learn about their customers, pricing, and marketing strategies
- Reach out to 1 competitor; perhaps we can learn from one another
- Reason to network: Find new hires and acquire talent
- Action items:
- Ask 10 valued employees for referrals
- Join 5 membership industry organizations online or within social media groups
- Develop greater social media presence and increase contacts by 50
Networking in California
There are a whole host of events happening in California at any given time. Some you may be aware of, others perhaps not. We’ve identified 3 annual conferences that may be of interest to you, helping you to reach goals and make your networking strategy pay off (check their websites for dates and locations):
AeroDef Manufacturing Conference. Gain access to a powerful community of aerospace and defense manufacturers.
Medical Design & Manufacturing West. A conference and showcase for Southern California medical equipment manufacturers.
Pacific Design & Manufacturing Expo. North America’s largest design and manufacturing event aims to help you make the most of your manufacturing processes with educational exhibits on Additive Manufacturing and more.
You may also want to consider joining a local peer group so that you can collaborate with other manufacturers to discuss common challenges, share success stories, and gain insights into solutions and strategies that other leaders have developed. Not only will this give you an opportunity to form valuable relationships with your peers, it may open the door to connecting with other resources, such as suppliers, new talent, etc.
Of course, Manufacturing Day is also coming up on Friday, October 5, 2018. This annual celebration gives small and medium-sized manufacturers the opportunity to showcase their products and capabilities to students, educators, businesspeople, politicians, and the media. This is a great chance to build your professional network! Read about 2017’s event here and consider hosting an event this year.
While it can take time and patience, it’s never too late to begin networking! Think of it as an investment: growing and maintaining your network can be a strong basis for referrals, which is how many manufacturers grow their business. In addition, you can mine your network for help in solving operational problems, supply issues, and more. But remember, you also want to approach networking as a giver; others don’t always want to be the one providing “handouts.”
Become their ally as well, offering your insight and sharing your knowledge so you become valuable to them as well. Now armed with your new networking strategy, get out there and make some friends!