Andrew Johnson

Everyone is a little nervous about networking. What should I talk about? How do I avoid sounding obvious? Andrew Johnson, owner of Touchstone Realty in Martinsburg, West Virginia, says that the key is to start with a foundation. “The first thing you must remember is the 5 Ws: who, what, where, when and why. Stick to those five things and you’ll find conversations flows easily.” Johnson was ranked No. 24 on 2013 REAL Trends/The Wall Street Journal The Thousand Top 250 sales professionals by transactions sides. He’s spoken at several events on networking. Here are his tips:

1. Do your homework. Will the people you are networking with be bank presidents or title insurance representatives? By knowing whom you’ll be speaking with, you are better able to direct your questions. Some that Johnson says always work for him: How long have you worked here? When did you start? When did you get your promotion? Why did you choose banking?

2. Ask, then Listen. “I’ve never learned anything with my mouth open,” says Johnson. Ask pointed questions, then sit back and listen. The more they talk, the more you learn.

3. Give to Give, not Receive. “Don’t expect to receive anything,” says Johnson, “Sometimes they simply don’t have anything to give you. Sometimes they can’t help you,” he says. Johnson says that networking is about slow, organic relationship building. If you expect things, then it compromises your integrity. Plus, he says, “You don’t always have anything to offer either. What’s important is that you spend time face-to-face. Don’t overthink networking, it’s not hard you just have to stick to it.

4. Don’t network above your means. “If you sell resales, there’s no need for me to network with bank presidents,” says Johnson. “Instead, I need to network with the lenders as they are the ones who are touching the same people as you are. You can work your way up to the bank president.” Stay within the goals of your career, and work towards that. “Don’t go directly to the builder, go to the sales reps.”

5. Don’t get crazy with social media. “It’s ok to be Facebook or Twitter, but it can’t be your bread and butter,” he says. Networking you did 10 years ago is paying off today. So, continue to participate in social networking but mix it with events, personalized emails and in-person meetings.

6. Conquer your fear. Many people are fearful of rejection. The easy thing about social media is that you don’t know you’ve been rejected, he says. “Don’t let your own social anxieties impact your business life. Besides, the more you get rejected, the less it hurts,” says Johnson.

7. Mix it up. “Don’t go in with the same questions every time,” says Johnson. “If someone asks you a good question, remember it and use it at a later date. Keep notes.”

Overall, networking gets easier the more you do it. Remember, says Johnson, “You’re not the only guy at the soccer stadium trying to play baseball. Most likely networking is just as uncomfortable for others as it is for you. Bottom line: If you don’t do it, you won’t make it.”