When I started my business 4 years ago, I was a novice at networking. Like many small business owners I spend a good amount of my time networking to meet other business owners with the goal of bringing in new prospects. The purpose of networking is not to necessarily meet people who need your services. The purpose is to get to know business people, and for other businesses to get to know you, so you can refer each other to those who need your or their products or services. Keep this in mind – it will help you be a more effective networker. Here are specific things that can help or hinder your networking efforts.
Have a positive attitude – It’s not easy walking into a room of people you don’t know. Take a deep breath and get started. Scout out a person you can start a conversation with.
Don’t be timid – Walk up to people and introduce yourself. Use body language to gauge if people are in a deep discussion that you shouldn’t interrupt. A group of people loosely standing together is likely one you can approach. A more closed group of people, in a seemingly serious discussion is probably not one you should approach.
Don’t sit through an event – When an event is a breakfast, lunch or dinner meeting, use the time before and afterward to mingle and talk to people. Avoid sitting at one table at events. Mingle with people who are standing and change tables after you’ve engaged some of those at your table.
Talk to people you don’t know – It’s easier to talk to people you know, but that won’t help you broaden your network. But do leverage your connections and touch base with those you know. Compare notes on people you have met. It’s an opportunity to make introductions for each other.
Be sure to meet several people - Don’t spend the entire event with the same person. Spend some time getting to know people you meet, but be sure to engage a few over the course of a couple of hours.
Don’t just walk up to people and hand them your business card – You are there to build relationships and just handing out business cards doesn’t do that. Avoid blatant self-promotion in your conversation as well. Both are a big turn off.
Have topics of conversation ready - Start with icebreaker topics like the event or the organization, weather, news or sports. Try to find a common perspective or interest.
Engage the other person - Ask questions about their business – how they got started, what challenges they are facing, etc. They will appreciate that you took an interest in them and the conversation will be more memorable for you and them.
Suggest a tip, tool, book, or website to help them out – This will make you more memorable and a resource for things not directly related to your business. They will see you are a valuable resource.
Have your elevator speech ready – You may have the opportunity to share what you do with the group and you don’t want to be unprepared. Be considerate of the other attendees and don’t go over the amount of time allotted for each attendee.
Exchange information – When the opportunity arises, give the person you are talking your business card or brochure before you part ways.
Follow-up afterward – Take the opportunity to call or email, and ask them if they found the tool, book or website that you recommended, or set-up a time to meet to discuss how you can help each other in business.
Remember, its quality, not quantity that’s important in networking. It’s all about making connections that will create opportunities.
Nina Tucker is owner of Noesis Marketing, specializing in marketing strategy and implementation to help small businesses grow.