As a professional, you probably have been to countless events that presented you with the opportunity to network. But, do you really know what the fundamentals of networking are? There is so much that goes into networking before you approach someone to connect with them, whether you are being intentional about meeting someone you’ve been eager to speak with or you are encountering someone for the first time. In preparation for the Entrepreneurs Summit next month in Charlotte, North Carolina, we spoke with Ramon Ray, founder and editor of Smart Hustle magazine about the ins and outs of networking.

As a serial entrepreneur and branding expert, Ray will be facilitating the Speed Networking session for attendees at the summit who want to sharpen their skills and make authentic connections with other entrepreneurs and small business owners. But, before he heads to Queen City, he wants to help you understand the fundamentals of networking so that you can shy away from common mistakes people often make and take your networking to the next level in a three-part series.

So, let’s jump right into it. Before you head to the summit or your next networking event, Ray says that you have to be clear about what it is that you want.

Know your why

“It’s important to know why you want to network. If you’re just networking to network, you might not get the results you want. You have to network with purpose.”

In addition to knowing why you are putting yourself out there to connect with people, it is equally as important to set goals.

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Set goals

Ray says that identifying and knowing your needs can help you set your goals. “That is the best way to set goals because if you are clear on the needs that you have then you can match the goal accordingly. Is your need to have a mentor? That could be one goal you could be networking toward. Is your need to get funding for a business? Is your goal to get more employees? Depending on the need that you have, that is the best way that you can be set up for success,” says Ray.

He adds, “What I find is that people who don’t know their needs, those are the people who are most disappointed when networking because they are just collecting cards to add someone to a spam email database and that’s not networking, that’s misery.”

Prepare ahead of time

Like with anything that you do in life, preparation is key. Before you attend any networking event you should thoroughly prepare ahead of time, which can include but is not limited to researching speakers, practicing your elevator pitch, and knowing what you bring to the table as you seek to connect with others and potentially build with them.

“Always be prepared. I’ve already been contacted by people within the Black Cosmopolitan community about Charlotte. They’ve hit me up on LinkedIn and Twitter saying, ‘Hey Ramon, I can’t wait to see you!’ That’s amazing!” says Ray.

Laser your focus

It is nearly impossible to connect with everyone at large events. And for that reason, Ray says that it is important to have laser focus because time is precious.

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“Let’s say that I’m looking for funding for my business. In the case of the Black Cosmopolitan Entrepreneurs Summit, that means that I am going to be looking at who are the speakers, who are the panelists, and who are the people that are going to be there who are funders? I am going to laser my focus, know when they are speaking, learn their interest, follow them on Twitter, and follow them on LinkedIn. And, I’m not saying to connect with them but follow them. You can follow people so that you can be all in their grill,” says Ray.

That way when it is time to engage with who it is you want to connect with you will know enough about them, which Ray says is, “half of being prepared.”

Be Intentional

Networking is equally about the person you are connecting with as much as it is about you and what you hope to gain. Therefore, be intentional.

“You have to network with a giving heart. You can’t just say, ‘give me your business card.’ That’s not networking. You have to ask yourself, how can I serve this person and advance their goals? When two people are talking they should be thinking about how they can advance one another’s goals,” says Ray.

So, are you ready to network? If so, join us for the 23rd annual Entrepreneurs Summit presented by Nationwide in Charlotte next month from June 6–9 for speed networking with Ramon Ray and more.

Get your ticket today and stay tuned for part two of this series on how to avoid making common mistakes when networking.

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