Networking can take many forms, and the right one will vary from situation to situation. You can get a hundred custom-printed business cards, hand them out, and see a relatively successful return on your investment. After all, business cards are a classic networking tool for a reason. They are effective.
However, some professionals prefer other networking methods. With the chance of your business card and, thus, contact information getting lost in a purse, wallet, or trash can, it’s important to have some alternative networking tricks up your sleeve. Use some of the following to add to your business card stack in a way that expands your reach and enhances your chances of making those lasting connections.
Expand Your Social Media Presence
Professionals now use every avenue available to them, and many of those avenues are online. Social media platforms are a great way to increase your visibility and engage with relevant professionals in your field. If you strategically leverage your profiles — business and personal — you can effectively network and share knowledge with valuable people in any industry. Facebook and LinkedIn are particularly useful for this.
On LinkedIn, users can join industry-specific groups, participate in discussions, and follow relevant professionals and organizations to stay updated on the latest trends and insights. Actively sharing thought-provoking content, such as articles or research findings, can help establish your credibility and initiate conversations with like-minded professionals.
Meanwhile, on Facebook, you can join relevant communities or pages, participate in discussions, and attend virtual events or webinars. You can do this from your personal page, your business page, or both. By consistently engaging with valuable content and connecting with professionals, you create more opportunities to build meaningful relationships, stay informed about industry developments, and potentially open doors to new opportunities. If you meet in person, then you can whip out those business cards.
Hand Out Swag
People generally respond well to generosity. Further, they like feeling included. Hit both targets by securing swag products to hand out at networking events. Make sure they are hyper-relevant to your industry to foster a sense of community with your colleagues. For example, you can create stickers that have a field-specific phrase on them like a funny gripe or quip. If it is creative enough and resonates well, you could start to see those stickers pop up on the laptops, tablets, and water bottles of your new network.
This type of promotion allows your networking efforts to extend beyond the one person you’re handing out a sticker to. Anyone who sees the sticker and identifies with its message could be a potential connection. Think of practical swag items like custom koozies or personalized lanyards to hand out that are particularly salient to your target network — and don’t forget to add your contact info somewhere on the items for easy access. Think of these products as elevated business cards.
Join a Professional Organization
Business cards are great for disseminating your contact information to potential connections. However, you also want to be a part of the industry conversation. Whether online or in person, you can join professional organizations that get together to discuss topics relevant to your field. These organizations can be free or paid, and they are often great resources for educational seminars, webinars, meetups, and contact information for like-minded professionals.
Not to mention, being part of a professional organization boosts your credibility. Some examples across varying industries include:
- The National Society of Accountants;
- The Association of Licensed Architects;
- The Professional Association of Visual Artists;
- The American Management Association;
- The National Communication Association.
The list goes on. Talk with other professionals and conduct online searches to find the most active associations in your community. It may even be worth it to join associations in industries that you are trying to break into, as well. You are more likely to make quality connections from these organizations because members have already gone through a vetting process.
Volunteer at an Industry Event
Similarly, you can participate in your industry by attending and working at relevant events. Again, speak to established connections and do some online searching to find virtual and in-person events being held that relate to your industry. Volunteering to work or speak at such an event can show your dedication to the field. Don’t forget to bring along your business cards, talking points, and a genuine attitude.
Contribute to Industry Publications
If you read industry publications, consider reaching out to them to become a contributor. Take stock of the websites, blogs, magazines, and newsletters that are most salient in your field. Then, determine your proposition. It’s likely that you have a unique take on at least one industry topic. Pitch that to these publications to increase your visibility, and make sure they allow you to be credited for your work. This can bring in readers to your network, as well as leaders from the industry publication, itself.
Host a Private Event for Colleagues
In addition to attending industry events, online and off, consider hosting your own. You can frame this as a networking event, so people you are already connected with in the industry are encouraged to bring their acquaintances. This way, you’re all working toward a common goal of getting to know each other and expanding your networks.
You get bonus points if this private event is fun to attend. Make sure you’re setting up a comfortable atmosphere and providing food or refreshments. Plan activities relevant to your industry, like bringing in speakers, playing games, or hosting raffles. Also, consider handing out memorable party favors to serve as your quasi-business card and keep the networking going long after the event is over. These can be personalized shot glasses, notebooks, cloth napkins, or keychains. Think creatively, and you will enjoy a host of new connections as the grateful host of your own private event.
Ask Your Existing Network
Even without hosting a private event, you can make use of your existing connections to establish new ones. You should already be nurturing these professional relationships by periodically checking in. Schedule time to reach out to your existing network and discuss pertinent, industry-specific topics. Having this rapport and familiarity will make it easier to discuss potential connections with their immediate network.
You can get the most out of these interactions by doing some research on your current network. Learn where they went to school, where they worked previously, and what their goals are in the industry moving forward. If this aligns with your networking goals, send a physical or virtual business card that they can pass along to their colleagues, friends, and network. As long as you are establishing genuine connections, this is a fantastic way to broaden your network and open up opportunities that a business card alone cannot.