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Building Bridges

Developing a strategy for how you handle networking one-on-ones is a matter of planning and practice to fine-tune what works best for you.

Michele Chiappetta
July 28, 2019

A crucial part of working for yourself is making business connections. We’ve talked about networking in this column before, from the viewpoint of visiting different groups to find the ones that work for you. But the next step after visiting a group and getting business cards from everyone is meeting one-on-one with people and seeing what that connection leads to. After all, this is where future business comes from, so it’s an essential element of bringing in leads.

As it turns out, there are some excellent points to making these one-on-ones pleasant and productive for everyone. Fortunately, developing a strategy for how you handle those one-on-ones is a matter of planning and practice to fine-tune what works best for you. The more you do it, the more you’ll learn how to do it successfully.

To get you started, here’s what I’ve learned so far in getting the most out of one-on-one networking meetings.

Remember the goal of networking is to connect, not sell
Ooh, boy. This point seems obvious, but it gets overlooked so often, you might come to hate networking meetings unless you figure out how to avoid it. Here’s the deal — the reason for coffee connections or lunch networking is to meet someone, get to know them and their business, build a sense of trust, and establish a relationship that will be mutually beneficial.

Do: Ask the person about who they are as a person and as a business owner. Learn about their most immediate goals. Find out what they’re looking for and need help with. Offer to connect them with others who might be helpful to them. See if you think this is someone you’d be happy to work with in the future.

Don’t: Try to sell them on your services or convert them into a customer. There’s no worse turn-off than showing up for what you think will be a casual, get-to-know session, only to find out it’s a hardcore attempt to convince you to buy insurance or join someone’s multi-level marketing team.

Schedule one-on-ones strategically
When you work for yourself, managing your calendar smartly is an art form that you need to master if you’re going to stay sane. And this includes scheduling meetings. Think in terms of what works best for you as a person and as a business owner. If you’d rather do meetings at certain times of the day or week, then stick to those slots when you’re coordinating a meeting with someone.

Make the most of your personality style
Are you an extrovert who loves connecting with people? You might try to do a full day of networking, with several back-to-back meetings. Do you benefit from getting away from your home office midday for a break? Then connect with someone over lunch. Are you more introverted, with a need for regular quiet time? If so, don’t do back-to-back meetings. Instead, figure out how many meetings you can do each week without losing your mind, and then spread those meetings out so you don’t get overly stressed.

Keep your workload in mind when setting appointments
This probably sounds like a given, right? But it’s something that can easily get overlooked… until you’re looking at your calendar and panicking over all you need to do. Been there, done that, and it’s not fun. So, make life easier on yourself by slotting meetings carefully into your work schedule. I’ve found it helpful to plan meetings in the middle of the month when I have fewer deadlines to meet. This allows me to focus on each meeting without distraction.

Make sure the conversation is two-sided
Another critical element in one-on-one networking is ensuring you and the other person have a dialogue. That is, two people need to be sharing back and forth. If only one of you is talking, or if you are talking but not connecting, then you’re wasting both people’s time. This is one of the most miserable experiences in networking, and it’s important to do all you can to avoid it. Don’t overshare or try to dominate the conversation, but don’t be too quiet either. Look for ways to make the conversation mutual and equal.

Show up with great questions
If you feel like you have trouble holding good conversations, plan. It helps to look up the person you’re meeting on LinkedIn and check out their website. But beyond that, come up with some questions that are open-ended to invite good talks. Some good ones include: How did you end up working in your line of business? What do you like best about it? What’s your biggest challenge? What’s your favorite type of client to work for?

Be mindful of the person’s time
Everyone you meet with is on a schedule — including you. So, don’t overstay your welcome. When you arrive, ask the person you’re meeting what their schedule looks like and when they need to leave. If you need to go at a set time, let them know. Try to keep the meeting to an hour or less so that it’s not overkilling. Focus on getting to know the person. If you need to schedule more time with them at a later date, you can always do so.