Networking is an important part of any small business strategy, offering numerous opportunities to grow your customer base, generate new contacts, and make business connections.
Unfortunately, for many, networking can feel more like a necessary evil than a welcome experience – the forced conversation, awkward small talk, and uncomfortable silence can be enough to keep people from attending at all.
But once you get past the initial jitters, you’ll realize that you’re probably not the only one who feels a little nervous. It’s all about sharing in the experience, exchanging ideas, and opening up your business to new possibilities, something that can’t be achieved sitting behind a desk all day, every day.
So let’s discuss some networking tips that can help you move out of your comfort zone so that you can start taking your business to that next level.
1- Do Your Research & Prepare
Prior to the event, do a little background research into the type of event, environment, and attendees to get a better feel for the dress code and what you might expect. This will also give you some insight into what to prepare.
You’ll definitely want to bring your business cards with you to the event. Keep in mind that your goal is to make lasting impressions; even if you knock your conversations out of the park, it won’t do you much good if your new contacts don’t have a means of contacting you post-event.
2- Have a Goal in Mind
Before attending your networking event, set a goal for yourself so that you’ll have something measurable to achieve. This will help focus your energy (especially if you’re experiencing some nervous tension) and give you a clear direction so you don’t wander aimlessly.
For example, set a goal to make at least three connections at your event. Once the event is over, you’ll know if you’ve set an achievable goal, and, if so, see if you can up that number for next time. Challenge yourself by increasing your goal more and more each time.
3- Prepare Your Elevator Pitch
Next, you’ll want to prepare your elevator pitch, a well-rehearsed description of your company, the role you play, and the value you can offer your clients. This brief speech should be no longer than sixty seconds; the idea is to make it concise enough to deliver in the time span of an elevator ride.
Practice your elevator pitch prior to the event so that you’ll be comfortable saying it once the nerves start setting in.
DURING THE EVENT
4- Go Outside Your Comfort Zone
Until you have more experience at these types of events, you’ll likely need to venture outside of your comfort zone somewhat in order to make some new contacts and forge meaningful connections.
Keep in mind when you’re working the room that it’s about quality not quantity; one quality conversation is better than twenty superficial ones.
5- Ask Open-Ended Questions
Make a point of asking open-ended questions (as opposed to questions that only require a yes or no answer) when you’re meeting new contacts in order to keep the conversation flowing.
That doesn’t mean you need to be a business robot and ask strictly professional questions only. If the conversation warrants it, try connecting on more of a personal level to help build trust and demonstrate that you’re not just interested in getting their business.
Some examples of good conversation starters are:
- Can you tell me more about your company?
- How did you get started and how long have you been in business?
- What are your future goals?
The idea is to keep the conversation going without feeling like you need to constantly refuel your engine.
6- Listen More than Talk
Do your best to listen rather than talk the whole time, and focus on fostering the relationship, not the sale. Now is the time to take an active interest in what people are saying.
After your discussion, jot down any personal details the contact may have shared, such as their dog’s name, their son’s birthday, etc. so that the next time you meet you have something to ask about. People tend to appreciate when you remember personal details about them.
7- Follow Up with Any Contacts You’ve Made
Once the event is over, don’t just gather up your business cards and store them away. Comb through them and make a point of following up with any contacts you’ve made.
Some great ways to follow up are:
- Connect with your new contacts on LinkedIn
- Send a friendly email thanking them for meeting with you. Avoid the sales pitches; the goal is simply to stay top of mind and keep the dialogue going.
- Suggest some resources that may be of interest to them, such as a blog post or an ebook that addressed something you discussed at the event
- Invite them to attend any upcoming events that you’re planning on attending or hosting
A good rule of thumb is to get back in touch with any contacts you’ve made about 48 hours after the event; that’s enough time to give them some breathing room but soon enough that you’ll still be top of mind.
Now that you have what you need to make a lasting impression, why not put your new networking skills to the test? Join us at our next HUG event where we’ll discuss how to attract right-fit clients with high ROI marketing strategies. We hope to see you there!