Networking is an integral part of business and is a necessary skill. Networking is one of the most important tools in your marketing toolbox. Business owners must sell themselves in addition to their business. Nothing can replace face-to-face interactions, especially when asking for a referral. The following are some tips to help you get the most out of your networking efforts.
Be Intentional with Networking Events & Groups
Start off by defining your goals. Do you want to meet as many people as possible, or do you want to speak to fewer people and get to know them better? Both goals have merits, but it is important to have a clear idea of what you want before you start.
Choose your events and groups based on your goals. A good mix of business types is ideal. Keep in mind when selecting networking groups that quality over quantity counts – a room full of unprofessional women will not get you the kind of referrals you are seeking.
Try One-on-One Meetings
After an initial event, set up a time for coffee with people of interest you have met. They can be in any industry, as you never know what connections may be available for both of you. And don’t forget to let your contact know what type of referrals you are looking for, and be sure to ask them what they are looking for. Just like with clients and customers, it takes several meetings to gain trust.
Make sure you have business cards on you at all times. Find a place to put them so you are not digging in your bag to find one. Purchase a business card holder that you like and can find easily. And remember to reorder cards before you run out.
Change locations and move around within the venue – get food or drinks if available. If possible, walk around and don’t sit for long periods of time.
Avoid the temptation to only hang out with friends – it’s not networking if you don’t meet new people! If you are an introvert by nature, it is perfectly acceptable to bring a friend that can help you break the ice, while keeping in mind that you are both there to meet others. Remember to engage with those around you and limit time on your cell phone.
Refer to the original goal you set when entering the event. If your goal was to meet several new people, make sure you are aware of the time you need to meet your goal.
Name tags are helpful for everyone. It is wise to go ahead and invest in purchasing your own so that you are not depending on the host of a networking event to provide them. Make sure your logo, name, and business are clearly legible. Your name tag is a wearable business card, so make sure it is memorable and appropriate to your audience and business type.
Name tag placement should be on your right side, so that when you are shaking hands, the other person’s line of sight goes directly to your name.
Say their name several times in your conversation to help you remember it and keep their attention. Everyone likes to hear their name!
Food and beverages are great subjects to talk about if served or present at the event. Compliments are a good opener if they are sincere. Other great topics are kids, non-controversial current events, the venue, hobbies. You can ask how the person found out about the event, or if they are from the area. Most importantly, make sure to listen and let the other person have plenty of time to talk.
Avoid oversharing. It’s ok to connect on a personal level, but not all struggles or successes need to be discussed in a first meeting. Remember to keep it positive.
Do not go into a networking event with a mission to sell. Networking events are for relationship building. and are not a setting for gossip. Talking about others will reflect poorly on you and your business. Finally, refrain from sensitive topics such as religion or politics.
Track Your Results
You are marketing yourself and your business, and tracking is key. When you get a referral, be sure to ask who sent the business your way. Check the return on investment of both your time at networking events and the costI. Are the groups you are paying for getting you results? If not, it may be time to try another one.
Whether at a networking event, dinner party, or any type of social activity, look for a connection with the people around you. Join a club, attend workshops, classes, or continuing education in your field.
Stay Appropriate for the Setting
If you are meeting in a business setting, keep the meeting professional. A happy hour event generally has a more casual atmosphere than a breakfast or lunch networking event. Dress appropriately for the venue, event, and your type of business. If meeting at a happy hour, be sure to limit alcoholic beverages.
Be a Part of the Community
Not only will it make you feel great, but when people will see you helping out in the community, they will relate it to your business. In addition, it is another opportunity to meet people.
An email, letter, or phone call letting the person know it was nice to meet them is a great way to follow up and keep you name and business fresh in their mind.