As most of you know, Ryan and I decided to uproot our lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick and relocate to Toronto, Ontario to grow both of our respective businesses. When moving here we didn't really know anyone so it was crucial for us both to get out and meet people. Over the past month and a half I have been to a networking event, mixer, coffee date, or dinner date almost every...single...day. This might seem like overkill to you, but to me meeting people and expanding my network is so, so important to me and my business (not to mention I am a social butterfly that thrives on meeting people and getting out of the house). Below are my best tips and tricks to building a network and meeting new and interesting people!
Do for others what you wish someone would do for you:
Networking, folks, is not about what another person can do for you it is about what you can do for them, or at the very least, for each other! When I go to a networking event I, of course, always have an idea of who I would like to meet. For example, am I looking for clients, buyers, models, bloggers, or other designers? However, all of these titles of people who I want to meet are in the back of my mind. What's on the forefront of my mind is getting to know the people who I am talking to. I try to find out what the person's strengths and weaknesses are. What are they good at? What do they need help with? You never know, someone might be a good connection who you never even imagined!
For example, if I meet a fashion blogger at an event, I will take their card. When I go home, I look over their blog so I have a sense of their writing and fashion style. Then later on, if my company is putting on a fashion show and I am looking for fashion bloggers, I know who to contact! This helps all of the parties involved. The fashion blogger will help promote our event, critique the designs, and help create a buzz around the event. The blogger in turn usually gets either a free pass to the show and/or payment of some kind. They also typically get VIP seating at the event and first hand knowledge of some of the most cutting edge fashion influencers.
In the words of Zig Ziglar, "You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want."
Instagram is underrated:
One of the best tools when it comes to networking, I find, is Instagram! When I first moved here I would look up accounts who used similar hashtags as me such as #fashionblogger and #torontofashion for example. When I found accounts that interested me I would reach out via the direct message feature and ask them out for coffee! This sounds super obvious (and kind of stalkerish) but it works!!!
Just last week I was in a meeting with a blogger for dinner and she said "Oh! I was going to bring my friend Alex! She told me you messaged her on Instagram and asked her out for coffee!" Even though I hadn't met Alex yet, I was now apparently on her radar and a connection was made about a mutual acquaintance without me even knowing! Small world huh!? By planting that small seed it is now being nurtured and will eventually turn into a stronger connection over time.
Through Instagram I was also able to find different meet up events that were industry specific. A great one for fashion that I found was Toronto Fashion Industry which is a monthly networking event held at the Buonanotte Restaurant. Models, boutique owners, bloggers, photographers and designers all meet up once a month to showcase their work, connect, and have a couple of drinks (which at $9.00 a Heineken usually means a drink for me).
In person meet ups and events:
Websites such as Toronto Meetup list all sorts of meet-ups and networking events around the city! These can be pretty hit or miss so I suggest you either do your research or prepare yourself for trial and error. Ryan and I, for instance, went to one where we did Zumba (this was not a Zumba or fitness event of any kind) and listened to speakers for the majority of the event. We didn't really "network" per-say (unless you consider Real Estate Agents and Mortgage Brokers throwing their business cards at you and walking away "networking"). Other events lead to really great contacts and follow up meetings such as an event we went to, close to Bloor and Ossington, called "Mingle Bells Mixer".
My best advice would be to go to as many events in one month as you can! A lot of events run monthly, so if you find an event that you like, you can make a note to go back to that one again the next month.
Be a "hostess with the mostess":
If you are hosting your own networking event, for the love of God, please make sure you are set up and ready to go on time! Every single networking event I have been to since I moved to Toronto has started late! I am not usually a stickler to punctuality however I feel like if you are hosting an event catered to professionals you need to be professional. It sounds simple I know, but you wouldn't believe how many events I have gone to where the host is not set up and ready to go on time. One event didn't even start until 30 minutes after the start time! As most of these events cost money, I expect to get my moneys worth.
It's all about the follow up baby!
Meeting people at networking events is a great way to meet a lot of people, but is important to follow up with the people you meet. Generally I try to email people who I felt I had a connection with or shared interest with within 48 hours of first meeting with them (so they will remember me). If I am really interested in them, or what they do, I usually invite them out to a coffee that same week or the next week to follow up. This is your opportunity to learn more about the other person so you have their information in your back pocket moving forward.
Make sure when you are following up with someone, via email or in person, that you mentioned something about them. Congratulate them on an accomplishment or milestone they have recently met, or compliment them on their online content or website. You want to make that person feel valued and important because they are.
Putting yourself out there and meeting new people can be intimidating, but just remember you are probably not the only one who is nervous (if you need a pep talk refer to my blog post, "Finding Your Inner Diva")!
If you are trying to grow your brand or your business, networking is so, so important!!!! Building meaningful relationships with people can make or break you. Not to mention, it's just good karma to help each other out!
If you have any networking events in the Toronto area that you like to go to or think I would like, leave a note in the comments section! I love to hear about what everyone is doing in the city!