I had a poor networking experience last month. “What is that?” you might be thinking. Oh, I SHALL TELL YOU. It was so poor and it left such a sour taste in my mouth that it inspired this entire blog post on how to build better networking relationships.

In my book, poor networking is characterized by a lack of effort and authenticity. It’s transactional. It means the person who reached out to me has had a history of giving little attention to building a meaningful connection with me but wants something in return regardless. The end result is that not only do I not trust this person, since they’ve attempted this multiple times, but it has now undermined the very potential for future collaboration or meaningful connection. Frankly, the reach felt insincere.

It felt insincere because there is not a relationship to speak of, to begin with, because this person has made it very clear by their actions that they are not interested in building anything of value with me.

How to build lasting and significant networking relationships

Networking is one of the most important things I do and as a traveling photographer, I generally have ample opportunities to do so. As a “gig worker,” I very rarely know where my next job or lead is going to come from and it’s important to the health of my business to leverage every opportunity that I have, but it’s important to me to make sure that I do so in a way that reflects my values and goals. Not all networking is created equal – simply exchanging business cards at that event or adding someone on Linkedin isn’t going to cut it.  With some intentionality (one of my values) and a generous spirit (another one), meaningful connections are just around the corner. In this blog post, I’ll share some of my tips on how to build lasting and significant networking relationships with people in your field. Regardless of whether or not you work in the events industry, these tips are valid for everyone.

1. Be authentic

Step #1 on how to build lasting and significant networking relationships is to be authentic. Just as my Spidey-sense went off with the networking experience in question last month, I can assure you that it happens just as rapidly in others. People can sense when you’re not being genuine. Trying to impress people on a base level is a one-way road to failure in most situations. Insincere flattery? Hard pass. Focus on being yourself and showing your true personality. 

2.  Focus on quality over quantity 

Y’all – this isn’t unemployment. You aren’t here to prove how many people you spoke to. Building lasting and significant relationships requires a focus on quality over quantity, and that means being present in the conversations you are having. Stay open to invitations from those folks. If you focus on building strong connections with a select few, it will ensure that you invest the time and energy required in a way that makes a difference.

3  Attend events and conferences

I very rarely walk away from SXSW, or any conference that I work for that matter, without a few quality folks in my arsenal. Attending events and conferences is a great way to meet new people, simply because the nature of the very events is geared towards opportunities to network with other professionals, learn about new trends and technologies, and gain valuable insights into your field. Because I like to be intentional, I always make sure that I approach events with a strategy in mind: set goals for the event, such as meeting specific people, having that conversation you’ve been trying to schedule with a client, or learning about a particular topic.

4.  Be proactive

Building lasting and significant relationships requires a proactive approach. Don’t wait for people to come to you. GET OFF YOUR PHONE. Instead, take the initiative to reach out to others and start a conversation. This can be as simple as chatting to your neighbor before or after the panel you’re attending. By taking the first step in an authentic and generous way, you demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment to building a relationship, regardless of the outcome.

6.  Be a good listener

I get told I’m a good listener a lot. I am honestly not sure why, but I can tell you that it started happening when I started practicing being more present. What I do know, is that being a good listener is crucial in building lasting and significant networking relationships. When you’re meeting with someone, if you’re ruminating in your head about what your response is going to be when they speak, I can tell you that you are doing it wrong. Active listening means just that: don’t worry about what you are going to say – really listen, ask thoughtful questions, and show a genuine and yes, authentic interest, to build rapport and establish trust. Honestly, you should be doing this in all aspects of your life: these are essential pillars for any meaningful relationship.

7.  Follow up and stay in touch 

Following up and staying in touch is essential in building lasting and significant networking relationships. After meeting someone, be sure to follow up with them within a few days to express your gratitude for the meeting and reiterate your interest in building a relationship. Make sure to stay in touch with them over time, whether it’s through email, social media, or in-person meetings. Instagram stories make it incredibly easy for me to share my life with those I’ve met, and interact and follow along with others. Utilize any avenue you have to keep that party going!

8.  Provide value 

Networking is a two-way street, y’all. To build lasting and significant relationships, you need to provide value to the people you’re networking with. Susan Hyatt, whom I’ve heralded on here before, taught me the benefit of making sure you frame your mindset with generosity and authenticity. If you walk into a networking room operating from the mindset of asking what they can do for you rather than what you can do for the room, then you’re already operating at a loss and from a very disastrous scarcity mindset. DANGER WILL ROBINSON! One of my core values is generosity and it means that I walk into any situation or room asking myself, ”how can I add value to this room?” By adopting a service mindset and genuinely seeking ways to help others, Susan, and I, believe that you can build a deeper connection and create a network of supportive allies. By emphasizing being present, adding authentic value, and embodying the power of generosity, I promise that you’ll create lasting relationships in both personal and professional contexts.

9. Be patient

Building relationships takes time y’all. It takes patience. It takes a note every once in a while. Or a text when you are thinking about someone.  Holly Gray, the founder of Anything but Gray Events, knows her way around the networking room. Holly is the head of a Los Angeles-based event planning company. We’ve never met in person, but her work originally stood out to me online for its vibrant, unique, and colorful experiences that she personalizes for her clients. Today, I follow Holly because I find her to be an expert in our field, and ultimately, a master networker that I know I can learn something from. Holly’s take on patience?  

“Slow and steady is the name of the game when it comes to most things in life. Trying to rush, force, or press a professional relationship with cold emails, calls, and offers of kickbacks will do way more harm than good.  When I get a cold email from a vendor, asking me to put them on my preferred vendor list, that email immediately gets trashed. The vendor has not taken the time to do their research, hasn’t opened up, and even more offensively, expects me to automatically trust them with my clients, and my reputation.” 

I completely agree with Holly. She goes on to explain, “I wish more vendors understood how patience, authenticity, a sincere interest, and offering value, (not for your own gain) will take you must farther in the long run. The wedding industry is a long-term game. To give you perspective, 11 years into business as a wedding planner in Los Angeles, the seeds I planted 1, 5, and 10 years ago, are finally sprouting, and blossoming. Just like a garden, professional relationships (all relationships really) need time, space, nourishment, and cultivation. Water your garden, keep it pruned and maintained, and remember that some things take time, but they are worth the wait. People will always remember how you make them feel, so do your best to be your best.”

So, take a page out of our book: be intentional and present when spending time with people you meet, focusing on quality over quantity, be authentic, and, ultimately, provide value to the rooms you walk into and I assure you, you’ll build the lasting and significant networking relationships that you desire.