Leadership often feels like an endless pursuit for more time. When you're tasked with forming new relationships, bringing opportunities to the company, and keeping an eye on the internals, you can easily waste time going back and forth between working in the business and working on it.
In the daze, attending events and conferences often gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. But strong relationships are the cornerstone of any successful company, and if you aren't putting yourself in front of influential people, you won't get far.
While you might feel stretched thin, you can have it all by networking more efficiently. Here are six ways to do that:
1. Spend your time wisely. When we started Influence & Co., I would attend any event at which I could potentially get a sale. Then, I realized I could go to one event like the Inc. 500 and secure as many clients or partners as I would in six months with my initial approach.
While you might have more flexibility when it comes to finances, your time isn't as forgiving. I recently wrote a list of my favorite conferences and couldn't believe how many people reached out for additional advice. Use your time wisely, and you'll maximize the quality and quantity of the relationships you build.
2. Pay attention to the audience. I just committed to speak at BIZFIT 2015 in Chicago this August, and I respect how dedicated the organizer, Colin McGuire, is to creating a great learning and networking environment for entrepreneurs. Often, new events snatch up any speaker with a big name and churn out crappy content. But Colin was adamant about only inviting speakers who have the best intentions and are committed to helping entrepreneurs. In a space where pay to play is gaining popularity, not every event puts content quality first, so his editorial goal made me think that it would be a great event for entrepreneurs.
3. Turn on your BS meter. If someone name-drops Mark Cuban within the first 10 seconds of meeting you, there's a good chance he's full of shit. My best connections don't brag about whom they know. If it comes up, it's natural. I've been guilty of puffing up my chest when I was potentially out of my league. But savvy leaders will always call your bluff. It's impossible to be best friends with every single person you briefly meet, so don't exaggerate the depth your relationships.
4. If you're there to network, then network. When I attend events or speak at conferences, I always see people waste time going to long dinners or leaving the event venue. It's an easy out because sometimes it sucks to force small talk with a bunch of people you don't know. But you should look like the Energizer Bunny and keep going until you've run out of opportunities. If you have to spend time away from home to network, make it worthwhile.
5. Do some research. You can usually get an attendee list without a problem--or at least get an idea of who will be attending. But don't stop there. Make a list of potential contacts and talking points so you can go in prepared. This way, you can leave the conference feeling confident in the relationships you secured.
6. Suppress your ego. As the CEO or president, you might think, "Should I really be going around and meeting new people?" But this attitude won't get you anywhere. Being an industry leader isn't an ego play. Even if attendees won't fit as potential clients or partners, you can still find value in talking to them. I can't count how many times I've met awesome employees who introduced me to higher-ups and whose company ended up doing business with mine. Never dismiss entry-level employees or wait for others to come to you.
Just like you wouldn't wing it with your sales strategy, don't go to networking events without doing your homework or devising a plan of action. The success of your business hinges on the relationships you build and the people you meet. If you're investing valuable time and money in events, make it count, and you'll start realizing their real business value.