As a businessperson, it is important to constantly grow your network of colleagues; you never know when those contacts could come in handy.
Before you travel, use social media or email to reach out to those in your network. Tell them where you’re going and ask if they have connections in the area who they think you should meet. Ask if they would mind making an introduction and recommendation for a meeting.
If you’re part of an established group such as Young Entrepreneurs, Rotary or Network of Women, put the word out that you’d like to meet members in your destination city. If the group is holding a meeting while you’re in town, try to fit it into your schedule. Check out the local Chamber of Commerce website to see if there are lunch or dinner events you could attend. Or visit interest group sites to find gatherings of people with similar interests.
Don’t immediately dive into your work or a book once you’re seated. Take the first ten minutes of your flight to introduce yourself to your seatmate. If he or she seems open to talking, a short chat might blossom into a business connection or, at the very least, a good conversation.
If you’re traveling to meet with your colleagues in a branch office, ask if you could join them in a networking setting, such as a lunch or after-work event. In town to meet with clients? You might ask if they have contacts they’d suggest you meet. (That also gives you an opportunity to follow up with your clients in a thank-you note.)
Set a goal to meet one, five or more people each day, then take advantage of every opportunity. Whether you’re in an elevator with someone, working out in the hotel gym or sitting next to someone on the subway, strike up a conversation. It could yield a business connection that you never anticipated.
With everything, practice makes perfect. Networking while traveling may not feel comfortable at first, but keep at it. The smallest things—saying hello, smiling and asking questions—can get the ball rolling.