The Five Best Ways To Make Business Connections

Throughout your career, it's important to constantly make (and use) your business connections. You never know who could turn into a client or introduce you to someone who wants to work with you. From trade shows and conferences to sporting events and volunteer opportunities, you can network virtually anywhere.

Malak Saleh, an editorial intern for Inc., set out to learn how to network effectively. She visited with a group of high-profile business executives and innovative entrepreneurs during Austin's SXSW festival. In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we highlight what Saleh learned from some of these luminaries when it comes to meeting potential business partners and developing new opportunities.

1. Do your homework before formally networking. Get to know the person you plan on talking to in advance. By doing thorough research, you should gain a rough idea of how you can appeal to that contact, says Elizabeth Gore, the president of Alice, an A.I.-based adviser for business owners. But professional relationships should benefit both parties. "Really think about that two-way connection," Gore advises. When you approach someone, know what you can offer that person to make the interaction more memorable, authentic and distinct.

2. Stick to the 48-hour rule. After a business meeting or conference, or even just a quick chat over coffee, Gore says, it's crucial to follow up within a short time frame. Once she parts ways with a potential professional contact, she puts a reminder in her calendar to check back within 48 hours. Getting in touch any later than two days after meeting someone can give the impression that you don't care about the new relationship or the subject you discussed with your new contact.

3. Be specific in what you want. Cindy Eckert, founder and CEO of Pink Ceiling, a venture capital fund that invests in women-led businesses, preaches the value of persistence. Saleh learned from Eckert the importance of being upfront and tenacious in letting people know what you are out to accomplish. "You have to be convinced that you would be doing the other person a disservice by not telling them what you're trying to do and how you're trying to change the game," says Eckert, who has sold two pharmaceutical companies for a total of $1.5 billion. "That is the mark of a true entrepreneur. They're so determined that everybody will hear their vision."

4. Don't immediately ask someone what they do. Saleh discovered that this is the worst question to ask when you first meet someone. The best professionals will approach a networking opportunity with fresh questions. Find a conversation topic to connect on. Once you hit on something that can bond you with a prospective contact, you have better odds when it comes to asking that person for a favor. It's also a good idea to always have a sample of a new or best-selling product on you to give away when you meet someone, she adds. That's how you leave a lasting impression.

5. Display confidence. When you want to make a new business connection, confidence matters. Go up to people whether you know if they can help you or not. Greet them and ask them what they are talking about.

There's great value in building your network of business connections. Use the tips above to build and maintain meaningful relationships.

Source: Malak Saleh is an editorial intern for Inc. She formerly worked at an Environmental Protection Commission branch in Florida where she looked at the impact local businesses had on active waste management programs.

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