When it comes to getting your building materials specified in more commercial projects, networking can be critical to your success. Unfortunately, building strategic relationships isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
“Many people, particularly young professionals, may initially have some reservations about jumping into networking environments,” said John Mrowczynski, a senior project manager at Reed Construction in Chicago. “Strong networking skills are critical in the industries of architecture, engineering and construction, and there are many opportunities available to make new connections.”
Not everyone is comfortable putting themselves out there and meeting new people. The good news is anyone can develop the skills needed to network more effectively. To help build your Rolodex (and confidence), John shared his top networking tips for building product manufacturers.
Be intentional about networking
If you’re serious about expanding your business contacts, you must be intentional about networking; but that doesn’t mean it takes a huge time investment. Even scheduling just one luncheon, breakfast or other networking event a week can exponentially increase your circle of influence.
“If you’re not sure where to begin, a quick internet search of opportunities in your area will likely give you a good start,” said John. “With events such as breakfasts, lunches, happy hours, golf outings, sporting events, panel discussions and conferences, there is something out there for everyone.”
Rethink your event calendar
Networking doesn’t have to happen at the same trade show every year, said John. Find new events with new audiences to hone your networking skills.
“Avoid attending the same type of event over and over,” said John. “Instead, research multiple focuses across your industry and determine a combination of events that align with your professional interests. Attending a variety of networking events will allow you to extend your reach and build a more diverse list of contacts.”
Don’t jump into a sales pitch
Even if your long-term networking goal is to build your customer base, remember that sales rarely happen in your first conversation with someone. Jumping straight into your sales pitch is more likely to turn off a potential customer than win them over.
When you’re making a new acquaintance, it’s okay to give in to a little small talk, but stick to low-pressure topics. Always try to create a memorable connection with questions that are more likely to prompt a real conversation.
“The standard, “get-to-know-you” questions are fine – ask which company they’re with (or what department), where they’re from, educational background, hobbies or interests,” John said. “Most networking events require guests to wear nametags. Make sure you’re calling the people you speak with by name – it adds a personal touch and they’ll be more likely to remember your conversation.”
Follow up and follow through
John’s biggest tip for networking within the architecture and design industry is realizing the importance of following up with contacts after the event.
“Ask for the person’s card and make sure to follow up with a LinkedIn connection request within a few days of the event,” he said. “If more specific business was part of your conversation, shoot them an email and set up another time to circle back and discuss further over coffee or lunch.”
Practice, practice, practice!
Finally, remember that becoming an effective networker requires practice — just like any area in your life you want to improve. It’s also integral to achieving your business goals. John said it’s important to remember one thing: “Networking is supposed to be fun, so don’t try to over-do it when you first meet a new contact.”