6 sure-fire ways to build your network this holiday season

The holiday season is one of the most social times of the year, with countless parties taking place throughout Greater Boston. You can expect to engage and share laughs with hundreds of existing – and new – contacts in the coming weeks. It’s prime real estate to expand your professional networks.

So, how can you make the most of this opportunity and leave your mark this season? Regardless of your level or industry, here are simple tips applicable for anyone:

  1. Create a game plan. Just as proper follow-up can be valuable, you’ll want to spend time prepping. Have an idea of the types of people you’d ideally like to meet, whether they’re from certain industries or organizations. Ask the organizers if they can share an advanced copy of the attendee list, and put your highlighter to it. Draft some general talking points (with more personal content, over professional) for the conversations ahead. And have a goal in the number of people you’ll want to meet. (A great rule of thumb is 20-30 percent of all attendees)
  2. Bring business cards: It’s not only an essential move; it’s one that can work to your advantage. These events bring rapid fire business card exchanges, so each person will surely bring home a rolodex’s worth. You need to stand out. When giving yours to a new contact, write a personal note on the back; related to a conversation point, or common interest, you shared. Chances are they’ll remember you more the next day.
  3. Don’t sell: Be yourself, not your position. It’s easy to fall into the pitfall of trying to use holiday parties to scoop up last minute business deals for your year-end numbers. While you may get lucky, these settings are not ideal for closing deals. This is a time to build a foundation for your new relationships. You can mention your company name and what you do, but only scratch the surface. Keep the focus on more personable topics.
  4. Leave your friends and co-workers: It’s okay to spend some time with those you know, but use these forums as an opportunity to leave your comfort zone, or else you’re limiting your own exposure. Spend the majority of time socializing with those you didn’t know before. Standing by the “punch bowl” will get you nowhere.
  5. Follow-up with holiday cards: Yes, it may seem tacky, but it’s a personal touch that can get you atop other’s rolodexes. Keep a “Happy Holidays’” theme to the card, and send it snail mail – within two days after you meet them. Include a personal greeting, and it’s okay to put your business card in there.
  6. Don’t limit yourself to your own company’s party: Executives and professionals are more prone to attend an after-hours event now more than any other time in the year. Ask a friend if you can go to their own party (if possible), or check out many of the regional gatherings around your area. (The Chamber even has one coming up!)

Most of all: Enjoy yourself. Networking is meant to be fun, not a burden. If you get out there, you’re opening an endless amount of opportunities for yourself professionally.

Don’t make this a New Year’s Resolution. Now is the time to get started.