You’re not alone. Most people are uncomfortable walking into a roomful of strangers.
Business networking events can help you grow your business and allow you to do hands-on marketing research. Learning to mingle and follow-up with business networking contacts is crucial to your small business success. The following techniques will assist you in connecting effectively with others.
Most of these techniques can be adapted for business networking online, too!
Before the Event
- When you write the business networking event (or online networking campaign) into your calendar, carve out 2 hours the next day for follow-up — so you know you have time to complete the task.
- Know your goals: What is your purpose for attending this particular event or launching this particular networking campaign online? To meet certain people? To find prospective customers? To find a resource you need? Meet a connect with like-minded colleagues? Nurture existing relationships?
- Come prepared with a pen and a small notebook, or your smartphone note taking app, so you can jot down who each person is and what’s important to remember about them.
- If it’s a cocktail party, or finger foods are being served during the networking portion of the meeting, eat before you go to the event. It’s better to carry only a drink, instead of trying to juggle a plate of food and shake hands at the same time.
- Ask the event host about dress code. Some events are Business Formal and people will be wearing business suits. Some events are Business Casual and there will be a mix of more relaxed styles. By knowing in advance what to expect, you maximize the feeling of being part of the group.
At a Live Business Networking Event
- Arrive early. Get there early when the group is small and manageable.
- Enter the room with a smile. Even if you feel nervous, “act as if.” If you have a smile on your face, you will be perceived as approachable, enthusiastic, and friendly. (And you’ll feel a whole lot better, too!)
- Bring 20 business cards and promise yourself you won’t leave until you’ve given out all the cards. Better yet, ask for other people’s cards if you sincerely want to keep in touch with them. Not everyone you meet will be a good resource or connection.
- Make sure you mingle. Do not isolate yourself with only the friends or colleagues you already know. Move around. Spend no more than 5-6 minutes talking with any one person.
- Ask your host to introduce you to people that you want to meet, or to get you started in a group where you know no one. If they have a Greeting Committee or Ambassadors, find out who they are and ask for help with introductions. Reach out to people standing by themselves, introduce people to each other. (Note: if you are part of a group or association that does not have a Greeting Committee, offer to become a one-person Greeting Committee. It gives you the perfect excuse to introduce yourself to everyone who walks in the door!)
- When you meet a person, shake hands, and repeat their name. This not only helps you remember it, but it shows that you’re making an effort to hear the name properly.
- Wear a nametag that is easy to read and is descriptive of you. Wear it on your right shoulder so that people can easily see it when they shake your hand.
- Create, practice and use a description of yourself and your work that can be said in 30 seconds or less. Know how to describe your work in one or two sentences. Make sure this quick introduction includes your name, the audience you serve, and how you uniquely help them.
- Listen more than you talk. Remember that there is nothing more flattering than someone who listens carefully and shows sincere, respectful interest in other people. Ask questions and listen to the responses so that you begin to understand the person. This also helps you to identify who might be a potential client for your own products and services.
- Take notes to help you remember what people have said as soon as you can. If you have to, take a quick break to a quiet area to write up your notes during the event while it’s fresh in your mind. When you get back to the office, put all this information into your contact management software.
After the Live Business Networking Event
- Once you have someone’s business card, make sure you follow up with them within 24 hours of the event.
- If there’s an obvious win-win connection with someone you’ve met at an event, call them up and invite them to lunch or a Skype coffee to explore the connection further.
- Keep a spreadsheet or database of all the people you’ve reached out to, notes about that person, and dates/times you’ve communicated with them. In this way you’ll know who to follow-up with and the nature of any conversations you’ve had with them.
Tips for Online Business Networking Campaigns
- Always start with your goals for this business networking campaign. Are you trying to connect with prospective customers, or wanting a closer relationship with mentors and colleagues?
- Just like in face-to-face networking, make sure you follow up with each person you make the initial contact with.
- Read their online profile before contacting them. It’s a dead giveaway that you’re just trolling for prospects if you ask them questions that they’ve already answered on their social media profile and/or website.
- If you see that you have mutual connections, ask for an introduction.
- Sending an email or a text is fine, but the money is in the phone. Phone calls (or video conferences) are more personal and form a deeper relationship than emails or texts.
When you look upon networking events and business functions as an opportunity to meet new people, do some market research and find potential clients, it can become a joy instead of a chore. Going in with a game plan makes you feel like you can really make the most of the event.