As a small business owner, you know the value of connecting with people in order to tell them about your business. The internet and social media have made it very easy to reach large numbers of individuals and companies with the touch of a button. While this can be an easy, cost effective way to market your business it lacks the personal interaction that comes with good old-fashioned networking. However, many people shudder at the thought of walking up to complete strangers and promoting their business and as a result come away from networking events without making solid connections or they avoid these events all together.
Listed below you will find helpful tips to make your next networking event successful. Networking events such as Chamber Leads Groups, Business after Hours, Grand Openings and such are great opportunities for you to meet a large number of potential clients face to face.
Before arriving at the event:
- Make sure your business cards are easily accessible either in your pocket or an outside section of a purse or backpack. You want to be able to seamlessly hand one to the person you are talking with
- Memorize 3 -4 key points about your business that you want everyone to know. When you are nervous about talking to strangers it is easy to get lost in non-essential details. Knowing what you want to share ahead of time will make it easier to include these points in the conversation. Just make sure you are not repeating your entire elevator speech.
- Prepare some general questions that are good conversation starters. For example: How did you get into (craft brewing, financial services, real estate, etc), How long have you been with (the Chamber, this group, your company), Are you from here, what do you like best about your job/business?
- Research the group that is hosting the event. Is it a Chamber of Commerce, Business Networking International, a private business or meet- up group? This gives you general information that can be used as a conversation starter and/or possible lead generation if they share the attendee list.
At the event:
- Get to the event on time. This gives you the opportunity to become familiar with the format of the event, and walk in with other attendees. It can be uncomfortable walking into a networking event late where it seems that you are the only one not talking to someone. This gives you the chance to talk to people right off the bat.
- Place your nametag on your right side. As people shake your hand their eye sight naturally travels down the line created to the right by your clasped hands.
- Start by getting something to drink, even if it is just water. This will give your hands something to do and keeps your mouth moist while you are talking. This will also allow you a few moments to scan the room to get a basic feel for the mix of people attending.
- If you know people who are there DO NOT immediately go to them. The whole point of networking is to meet people you don’t know. Save your acquaintances for later as the event is winding down so you can have a better conversation.
- Only sit down if you need to or are eating; people are less likely to approach you if you are sitting down.
- The key to successful networking is the ability to mingle. Move around the room, if people are outside, go outside, talk to those milling around the entryway, the bar and talk to your neighbors as you wait in the buffet line.
- Don’t wait for someone to approach you. Look for individuals who are standing by themselves or look like it might be their first time and take the initiative to introduce yourself.
- Remember that people love to talk about themselves so ask about them first. However, do not let the conversation end without telling them about you as well.
- Ask for their business card and give them yours at the same time. Often at networking events your conversations may be interrupted or shortened. If that happens you want them to at least have your information.
- Look for your ideal client in the group. If possible, check the sign in sheet or look for logos on clothing, hats, etc. Make sure you introduce yourself to them.
- Stay until the end of the event. This can give you an opportunity to continue an earlier conversation with someone or set up a follow-up appointment. You can also take the time to thank the host or sponsor.
After the event
- Make notes on the back of business cards about the person and/or conversation as a reminder
- Follow-up with the people you met. You can send an “it was nice to meet you” email and invite them to get together with you if appropriate.
- Be true to your word. If you tell someone you will call them do it! Even if you can’t meet with them right away respect their time in talking with you at the event and get in touch with them.
It takes practice to become comfortable at networking events so it’s helpful to attend as many as you can. Many organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Clubs, Business Networking International allow individuals to attend one event free of charge or for a nominal fee. Meet-Up is a great resource to find local business leads and referrals groups as well. Hopefully putting these tips into practice will help you have a positive and successful networking experience.