Business networking is a time-honored tradition. It has become such a part of the business world that there are now many ways to network. You can network by attending a Happy Hour or Business After Hours Event. You can take part in educational and informational programs and groups. You can participate in Leads Groups where membership is limited to only a specified number of participants from each industry. Whether you’re an introvert, or an extrovert, hate crowds or love them, there’s an event where you can be an effective and successful networker.
With so many opportunities for networking, there is no reason not to make networking part of your business strategy. To be a successful networker, though, you need to be thoughtful and intentional about how you network. There are good ways to network and ways that will not leave your business in the most favorable light.
The point of a networking event is to meet people who may become future clients, referral sources or collaborators. It is not to see how many people you can pitch your business to, how many business cards you can collect or how many names you can add to your mailing list. In fact, the last one is an absolute no, unless you’ve been given specific permission to do so.
Bring your business cards with you. While some say business cards are out of date, they are still one of the best ways to share information about your business. While some smart phones have an information sharing feature, and there are business card apps available, paper business cards are still the easiest and most widely accepted way to share business information. They are also useful for keeping track of people. Learn how I manage and utilize those cards here.
Rather than “working the room” or trying to see how many people you can meet at one time, do your homework ahead of time, and focus on a few key people. Most networking events have some kind of RSVP system where you can see who is planning on attending the event. Meetup.com is one example of a networking planning system. Other events use invitation apps like evite or Punchbowl. Once you know who’s attending, figure out who you’d like to meet, and plan accordingly. Don’t close yourself off, though. Remain open to meeting other attendees. You never know where your next ideal client might come from.
If you meet someone you’d like to get to know better, ask if they’d like to schedule a one-on-one appointment. Note that I did NOT say you should schedule an appointment to pitch your services. Five or ten minutes at a networking event is not enough time for you to determine whether this is a good fit for your business. Setting a one-one-one where you can spend 30 to 60 minutes getting to know each other is likely to result in a better business relationship before you look for the sale.
Relax and enjoy the event. Set aside your all-business persona and get to know the other attendees on a personal level as well as business. The point of networking events is to meet people and begin building relationships because these days people prefer to do business with people they know, like and trust. Note that the first word in Know, Like and Trust is know. Getting to know your networking attendees will give both of you the opportunity to build trust.
After the event, follow up in a timely manner to either confirm set appointments or to request an appointment. It’s best to follow up within 24 hours, so they haven’t had time to forget who you are. Email is perfectly acceptable for follow up, and usually the most efficient way to do so.
When you have your follow up meetings, don’t be tempted to turn them into a sales presentation. Learn about the other person’s business by asking interesting questions, and then listening to their answers. Learn about their business needs and how you can help meet them, whether through your products or services, or by referring clients. Becoming a resource for more than just your services will build trust, credibility and authority, establishing you as the go-to in your niche.
By following these simple steps, you can be an effective and successful networker.
How is networking working for you? Have any great tips you’d like to share or questions I can answer for you? Leave them in the comment section below.