How do I network effectively? Good tools help!

I’m really looking forward to being one of the three panelists at tomorrow’s Capital Ideas Edmonton event tackling the question, “How do I network effectively?” I guess you could say I have had some success with networking and I definitely have some ideas and thoughts on the subject to share!

How do you approach someone in a crowd without seeming pushy? How can you best connect with someone you meet at an event? Should you send a follow up after first connecting? You have been sharing your networking advice, and now we’re asking three Edmonton entrepreneurs to share their experiences.

We’ll get into those questions and many more during lunch tomorrow, and my sense is that we’ll quickly coalesce around the notion that you simply can’t beat face-to-face interaction. We’ll probably touch on technology, but I don’t think it’ll be the focus. For that reason, I thought it might be interesting to share some of the tools I use to help me network effectively.

Business Cards

I look forward to a time when everyone carries around a device equipped with NFC technology so that we can just tap devices and have contact information shared instantly. We’re not there yet however, so most of us rely on business cards to pass our details to someone else. I tried to do away with business cards for a while, thinking that anyone could Google me really quickly. That experiment didn’t last long though – I learned that people like having something tangible. I’m still using the business cards I designed back in 2009 (with some minor adjustments) and I find they work well. I only have my website and email addresses on the front of the card, which reflects my preference for online communication instead of the phone. On the back of the card is a tag cloud with organizations and words that hopefully jog someone’s memory about where or how they met me. Plus, I think it looks cool! The challenge of course is that I always think of things to add to the tag cloud before I run out of cards. Notably absent at the moment? What the Truck?!.

Website

I have resisted the temptation to make my blog the “front page” of my website specifically so that I have a more static place to put contact information, a brief bio, and a photo. I think this useful for people who want to find out more after looking at a business card or my Twitter profile or some other page that lists my URL. I treat my website as a hub for all of my online activities (you’ll find links to most of my social media profiles). One new service that does this for you is about.me and if you don’t already have a website, I would recommend taking a look at it. Here’s my page.

Online Calendar

You can very often find me at Credo Coffee or one of the other coffee spots downtown because I love meeting with people face-to-face. I will sometimes initiate but very often I get messages from others who want to meet with me to discuss something. I found that keeping track of all the emails and going back-and-forth on availability was time consuming and error prone, so I started looking for tools to help. I settled on Doodle a few months ago, which I had already started using to organize group meetings with others.

Doodle has a great feature called MeetMe which gives you a page that others can use to book time with you (Tungle.me is another option). This requires syncing your calendar with Doodle, but it supports all of the popular options such as Google Calendar, Outlook, iCal, etc. You can see my Doodle page here. Scheduling meetings is now really easy – I just point people to my Doodle page and they can suggest a time that works for them! I have scheduled more than three dozen meetings this way, and I now wonder how I ever got by without it. The basic service is free, but there’s a paid option if you want to customize your page.

Email & CRM

I have been a very happy Exchange/Outlook user for years, and last year I made the transition to Office 365 which is Microsoft’s hosted service. Whether you choose Exchange, Gmail, or some other service doesn’t matter too much, as long as you have access to it from anywhere. I don’t currently use a separate CRM tool, though I have given it some thought (not sure it is worth the effort). What I do right now is store contact details and simple notes about people in my Exchange address book, and I store longer form meeting notes (if necessary) using OneNote. I used Evernote for a while, but I’ve chosen the Microsoft ecosystem, and OneNote simply works better with Outlook, Skydrive, my Windows Phone, etc.

Social Networking

Have a favorite service? Chances are I am “mastermaq” there. I have profiles at most places, though my main networks are Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. These services are great for keeping in touch with people, but they are also a great way to augment my address book. My Windows Phone automatically links contacts from my address book and social networking services together so that I have one master contact list. I can’t tell you how many times I haven’t had a phone number or email address in my Exchange address book but have found it via someone’s social networking profile. Very handy! And the best part is that you don’t really have to keep your address book up-to-date – your contacts do it for you.

Reminders

I use a combination of services to make sure that I don’t forget to follow-up on something or with someone, and I have to admit that I still miss things from time to time (I have a terrible memory). First, I make extensive use of flags in my email. If I can’t deal with something right away, I’ll flag it so that I can review it later. Second, I make use of lists and flags inside of OneNote. Sometimes it’s just easier to have a page with a list of stuff that I know to check. Third, I generally set reminders on events in my calendar. Fourth, and probably most important, I use Remember the Milk. There are dozens and dozens of task list or reminder services out there, but RTM does everything I need it and more. It is frequently updated and improved, it works on pretty much every device, it integrates with a ton of other services, and it’s fast and easy-to-use. Best of all, unless you need some of the advanced features, it is free!

Sync & Backup

I guess underlying all of the tools I have talked about above is that everything is synced to my various computers and devices automatically, as well was backed up. I use both Dropbox and Skydrive very extensively. While these are not “networking” tools, they are important to make sure that all the effort you put into writing things down isn’t all of a sudden lost one day!

Other

Although recent devices and software have improved the situation greatly, I think QR codes are still more of a gimmick than a useful tool. My preference would be to use a short URL that is relatively easy to type or write down instead of a QR code.

And finally yes, I will absolutely Google you before we meet!

I hope you find some of these tools useful for your own networking activities. More importantly, I’d love to hear about the tools you use that I haven’t even discovered yet! Let me know in the comments below.

3 thoughts on “How do I network effectively? Good tools help!

  1. I actually prefer the tangibility of a well-designed business card over someone simply sending me their vCard. The problem, of course, is that I then have to either keep the card somewhere or manually enter the information into my contacts, neither of which is an appealing option.

    Still, I’m more likely to remember someone if they give me a business card (which I’ll inevitably pull out of my pocket later in the day) than if they were to simply send me their information via some kind of NFC transfer, since I wouldn’t necessarily have to ever look at that information again (assuming it was a chance meeting, rather than someone I needed to follow up with).

  2. Your business card is part of your personal and professional brand so do give some thought to it’s creation. I’ve also included my photo on the back which is typically wasted space.  As an added bonus it helps people remember who I am.

  3. Thanks Mack, I am back in my office job so wanted to check your recommended efficiency programs – because you seem very efficient!! I already use dropbox alot and its great for coordinating our home computers/pictures as well as Friends of FArmers files. I don’t seem to have OneNote on my work computer so will have to pass on that one. I have downloaded the Rem the Milk app and will try it out – tho it seems to require you to “upgrade to pro” to do much syncing of files.
    Thanks again!!!
    Jackie Clark

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