The right way to approach networking

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When I think of networking, I wonder if most people really embrace or understand the true spirit of which it is meant. For me it is about meeting interesting people, making great new connections, and yes, helping people and companies grow. I pride myself on being sincere and ready to lend a hand. I truly love meeting smart, fun people, eating hors d'oeuvres, and sipping wine and champagne. I also understand that when people attend a business networking event that the agenda also includes growing our collective businesses. So I'm not surprised when I receive calls and/or emails (I recommend both) from people that I've met. However, just like online dating, you don't have to go out with everyone you chat with nor do you have to do business with all the people you meet.

The right way to approach networking

I don't know about you, but I get a bit anxious before I attend networking events. Don't get me wrong, I love networking and believe that you should network everywhere: elevators (I met a really good friend in an elevator), restaurants, in line at Whole Foods, and the list goes on. Networking isn't limited to just business events.

I met Mike at a concert about 10 years ago. We email each other a couple of times a year and go out for an occasional lunch. I've never done business with him, although over the years he's introduced me to many of his colleagues and business partners. Of course, that was never my intention when we struck up a conversation at the Allman Brothers' concert. The point is, when I'm sitting at a concert and I talk with the person next to me, I simply don't have an agenda. We are both enjoying the same concert, and we probably have similar music tastes.

My friend Susan was at the hairdresser one day, and she mentioned to her stylist that she was looking for a job. The woman sitting next to her overheard the conversation and said, "My son is in the same business, could I have your card?" Long story short, the woman's son hired Susan. So the moral of the story is you never know who you'll meet, where, and who's listening.

I met Jimmy at Rocko Minerals in Margaretville, New York. He was pushing a baby stroller and had his 7-year-old daughter in tow. I struck up a conversation with him because my country home was just down the block from the store, and I had a little girl too. Wouldn't you know it, I invited Jimmy and his kids for pancakes, and they still come to this day for barbeques and family gatherings. Guess what? Recently Jimmy referred me a client. I'm grateful.

The best advice I've received regarding networking is don't expect anything. When I meet people in stores, at concerts, and yes, I really did meet my good friend in an elevator, I never expect anything. The fact that I reached out and made contact with someone whom I met at an event doesn't put him or her in my debt. No one is required to "pay me back." Instead of approaching networking with the goal of gaining business, I try reaching out and letting them know that I've enjoyed their company. When people respond, I like to learn about them and follow up accordingly, but I don't expect anything in return.