HOW TO NETWORK LIKE A BOSS
This past weekend I went to the A shawty for the Taliah Waajid Hair Natural Show! Think the ultimate swap meet of hair products from every brand imaginable, prominent and start up, specifically for black natural hair and locks. I took myself to the event last year so that I could network with the all my favorite brands' PR reps and owners and to rub elbows with the other natural hair influencers. Armed with business cards, my camera, a dope ass outfit and a beat face, I worked that room. I shook hands, I took names, I passed out cards, I took pictures, I interviewed, I schmoozed with prominent natural hair owners and influencers. I killed it! And you know what happened after that? I nudged my way into the natural hair community and now I'm kinda sorta a familiar face in a saturated niche and got lots of opportunities thrown my way throughout the year from that one event.
I notice through the questions I get on my YouTube channel, either on my How To Get A Job series or the vlog about this previous trip to ATL, is that people don’t know how to professionally communicate and they don't know how to network. So you’re in luck because I’m going to show you the way!
WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE?
When going to events, seminars or master classes you should always have a purpose of intent for your attendance. What do you want to leave with when the event is over? Is it 5 contacts, is it knowledge, is it exposure to new people? Why are you there?
Whenever I go to events and this translates to job fairs or networking happy hours, I make it my business to have connected with and traded at least 5 business cards with people I want to align myself or business with. Figure out what you want before you get out the car and make it happen before you leave the event.
If I go to events where I’m networking and by myself, I have to be 100% comfortable so that I can be 100% confident. I don’t want to fidget with sleeves or be pulling on a skirt, so I always wear something that is flattering to my frame and that’s comfortable so I can concentrate on getting into my groove and meet new people.
I HAVE TO BE 100% COMFORTABLE SO I CAN BE 100% CONFIDENT
Always appropriately dress for the occasion but wear a statement piece so you stand out and that can be used as a reference point in the event your new contact forgets who you are. For example, last year when I went to the Hair Show and I wore a white cape, tattered jeans, heels and handed out my business cards with my face on one side. Because I’m already 5’8, with heels you can’t miss me. When I wrote my thank you emails the next day I would include in my introduction that it was a pleasure to meet them and in case they didn’t remember me, ‘I wore the white cape and my business card has my face on it.’ Instant light bulb to my reader and the conversation flows from there.
I know I have a resting bitch face that reads, ‘don’t come over here and your shoes are ugly’ AND I’m an introvert to the tenth power so I have to consciously turn on approachable Ondia. I’m not a mean person and would love your company, my face just doesn’t reflect that all the time. But because I’m aware of that, I know I have to over exaggerate my personality a little bit and make sure my body language is open. I keep a slight smile on my face at all times; Be clear, its not fake, its welcoming. My body language is open meaning I’m not crossing my arms which can look like I’m uninterested or unwilling to talk and I’ll float around the room and investigate different tables, people or groups.
Yes, as an introvert I’m exhausted from the performance and l need to have several seats to recoup, but I always remember what my mission is before I head for the bar or the door.
BREAK THE ICE
Before I start chatting it up, I have to get my bearings and scan the room from the edges. See who’s there, what are these people looking like and do I see anything of interest and like a Band-Aid, I count 1-2-3 and head to the first person, group or table that caught my eye. I’ll open with a compliment, “I love your hair” or sometimes I’ll get to the point, “Tell me a little bit about what you have here” – Of course this all depends on the type of event. Use your judgment. Always remember that people love to talk about themselves so if you’re nervous and want to take some of the pressure off yourself, ask them to expand on something about them.
A specific example of how I work the room at a hair show is like this: I scoped out on the map where the brands are located in the room that I want to work with. Depending on the amount of people at their station determines who I'll go talk to first. Once I can grab a brand's staff member, I would ask to speak to someone that was on their PR/Marketing team. Once I get that person, I would give my quick elevator speech and ask if I could leave my card and ask if they had a card to exchange. A "thank you" and on to the next!
This is basically the ‘about’ section in your Instagram Bio. Who are you, where are you from and what do you do? Quick and to the point. Elevator speeches should be no longer than 60 seconds because once you’ve hit the 2 minute mark, people have broken eye contact and are looking for an out especially if they’re not interested. Just saying. Get to the point.
So just imagine a huge convention room swarming with people and loud music thumping and you have to shout to whoever you're talking to. My speech goes a little something like this:
Hi! I'm Ondia J. a natural hair content creator from Maryland and I wanted to know are you working with influencers on any new activations this year? I create really unique video content and would love to work with your brand. I would like to leave you my card if there's an opportunity for us to collab and I'll take a card if you have one.
Boom! That speech right there gets rattled off in less than a minute and even in a noisy atmosphere you get all the high points of who I am, what I do and what I want. Cards are exchanged and now I have brand contact and an email to write at the top of the week.
In settings other than hair shows typically after the elevator speech you go into small talk where people talk deeper about whatever topic that brings you both to the event or things you have in common. The key is to generally be interested in what people have to say and engage in the conversation. If that topic doesn’t peak your interest find another topic or person to talk to. Don’t be afraid to say what you want in conversation like, "I’m looking for a graphic designer," or "collaborate". Nine times out of ten if they’re not the person you need, they can point you to someone they already know or have met in the room with that specialty.
Be armed with physical business cards. I know our phone never leaves our hand but it’s more professional to hand out a physical card, plus as an entrepreneur it shows that you’ve invested into yourself. In my previous blog, How To Work With Brand And Get Paid, I told you exactly what was on my cards and where I get them done. hint hint, the picture above is my actual business card.
Now, when I take these cards to events I’m not giving them out to everyone I pass like club cards on a windshield because 1. They’re valuable to you and your brand and 2. They cost money. These cards are reserved for people who you want to know you! More importantly, they’re reserved for people that you want to have in your network circle or can provide or have access to a person, place or thing you want or need. But how do I know if they have any of those things, Ondia? You learn that through the small talk.
WHAT TO DO AFTER
Immediately after the event write thank you emails for every contact you received. Don't let a week pass you by and you still haven't emailed your new contacts - that's how money and opportunity is left on the table. Strike while it's still fresh. In the email express that it was a pleasure meeting them, touch on a topic that you shared, provide any deliverables like links, a media kit, a pitch deck or resume and close with looking forward to working with you or hearing from you. See, simple! Subject: Pleasure meeting you at the (insert event here) Short and sweet.
The emails I sent out look something like this:
Good Morning, (Insert name) -
It's Ondia, from Ondiaj.com. I'm so glad that I could get your attention this weekend at the Taliah Waajid Natural Hair Show. In case my name isn't ringing a bell, I wore a green jumpsuit and my card has my face on it. I really love your brand, specifically product X because it has really helped keep my type 4 hair soft and moisturized, which are 2 of my biggest issues. It's changed the way I look at my wash day. Your product, X, is also a favorite!
At the show we briefly spoke about collaborating on your next campaign. Fingers crossed, you're still interested. If you're free sometime this week on Wednesday or Thursday at 2p EST, I'd love to hop on a call to run a few ideas by you.
I'll keep this brief, but certainly wanted to express my love for this brand and everything that you do!
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A few things to note about my email. I was professional the entire time even though I have met this person in real life. No, "Hey girl hey" but a salutation and their name with their correct spelling - major key. I jogged their memory of who I am and I praised their product line before asking for anything. I touched on the small talk we shared and then asked for a phone conference with a choice of date and time which then prompts them to A. make a decision on their availability and B. make them respond to my email to provide an answer to my question.
In the event that contact doesn’t fit the bill of your needs or correspondence goes cold after while, continue to stay in touch and hit them up every couple of months just as a friendly check in because you never know!
Now that I’ve shared some of my techniques, I want to hear from you. No, REALLY. How do you network or do you have any gems for introverts? Let me know in the comments below. If you like tips like this, be sure to sign up for my newsletter and follow me on my YouTube channel where I talk about topics like this!