Learn the Rules of Effective Networking

contacts within 48 hours. I prefer to send handwritten notes, or an e-mail to their individual address, a personal touch executable within minutes.

Most professionals, especially those at the highest levels, are extremely busy. Phone calls can prove intrusive when they’re managing an appointment-packed schedule. I’ve found the most effective means of outreach is often through e-mail. It may sound rudimentary but direct contact via e-mail enables you to bypass gatekeepers and, more important, allows them to process it when they’re most receptive to your message and to respond at their convenience.

Remember business networks are exchanges. Too many entrepreneurs make the mistake of reaching out to people only when they are in need. Developing genuine relationships obligates you to take an interest in others. Without prodding, you should be willing to offer resources or an ear when they’re confronted with challenges.

Keep in mind that the process doesn’t happen with a single conversation and a business card. Through time and commitment, you’ll eventually find the most valuable byproduct will be relationships that last a lifetime.

This article originally appeared in the March 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.

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  • KOH

    I like your general point that “low-pressure, informal environments offer the time necessary to begin the process of sharing professional and personal experiences, exploring interests, discovering values, and establishing common ground.” But even in these environments, sometimes people still don’t get it. After all you said you have been approached at graduations, funerals, and even public rest rooms…all somewhat informal. So it still comes down to sensitivity on their part, timing for both, delivery on their part, and real business need on the part of the executive.

    I was also wondering if you use some kind of subtle weeding out process when you first take a person’s business card; like right pocket for yes prospects, left for no prospects, etc.?

    Finally, I was wondering if executives are a little more forgiving, even in these awkward situations, to rule-breaking peers and potential clients than they are to rule-breaking “drive-by” networkers? KOH