Chances are, when you think of networking, you think of standing around at a convention with a "Hi! My name is..." sticker pasted on your chest or hunching over a phone in a cubicle somewhere. People think of networking and picture themselves in an office, in a suit or on a cell phone. People rarely picture themselves in a broken elevator.
But according to Andrea Nierenberg, founder and principal of The Nierenberg Group, a business-consulting firm based in New York, that's precisely the sort of place where people can network effectively. Touted on the cover of her book Nonstop Networking as the "Queen of Networking," Nierenberg once acquired some business in that exact situation.
When speaking with Monster, Nierenberg said that in the previous two days she had been involved in four networking success stories, none of which took place in a business setting. Here's what happened:
The Post Office -- at the Back of the Line
That morning, Nierenberg was waiting in line at the post office when she struck up a conversation with the person in front of her. The conversation turned to her book, and it turned out the other post-office customer worked with a small manufacturing company that was looking for a consultant to do almost exactly what Nierenberg's service provides. The two exchanged business cards, and Nierenberg said she has plans to follow up with it.
The Post Office -- at the Front of the Line
Reaching the front of the line, Nierenberg began talking with the clerk, to whom she'd given a copy of her book. While they talked, she found out the man liked the book so much, he was going to recommend to upper management that copies of the book be bought for post offices throughout New York.
The Nail Salon
Having her nails done the previous day, Nierenberg heard another customer chatting about holiday plans. Starting a conversation while their nails dried, Nierenberg found out the woman was looking for speakers to talk to members of her company as part of their training -- one of Nierenberg's specialties. Nierenberg left with freshly polished nails and two business leads.
The Coffee Shop
The day before that, Nierenberg said she was sitting in a coffee shop, talking with a friend about his advertising business. Noticing a man at the next table was listening, she introduced herself and asked if he was in advertising as well. He said he was but was currently looking for a job. Nierenberg introduced the two men and later heard that the man at the next table had been granted an interview at her friend's business.
The common themes of these stories, says Nierenberg, are that she thinks of almost every stranger as a potential networking contact and is willing to start up a conversation to prove herself right.
In this way, she's also gathered solid business contacts:
- On an airplane.
- At the dentist's office.
- In line for movie tickets.
- Wearing a dress being altered.
She says that the point is to be constantly aware of opportunities to meet new people, because you never know who will turn out to be a great networking contact. And capitalize on silence -- that is, take advantage of situations in which people tend to just stare at their feet. Nierenberg walked out of that broken elevator with three business cards in her hand because of her ability to do this, and once she attained a solid contact while waiting in line for the ladies' room.
Nierenberg offers these tips for networking anywhere at any time:
- Speak up.
- Have a conversation starter.
- Don't ask for something; offer something.
- Follow up.
Essentially, Nierenberg says, good networking consists of practicing good communication skills on a consistent basis and being ready to use those skills in any situation, not just at conventions or when you're unemployed. But the most important thing is to follow up. Otherwise, a casual conversation will never lead to a business relationship, she says. Be friendly and start conversations so you'll never have to cold call your old college adviser for a job contact.