Unless you are in the fortunate position of having a strong and stable customer base or being able to rely entirely on referrals for business the chances are that you have a need to market your business through some form of promotional activity.
One important way to promote your business is attendance at networking events organized by such as business and professional bodies, government agencies, local business development groups or chambers of commerce.
While the focus of this note is the formal networking event, in a sense every time you talk to another person about your business is a ‘networking event’. You will know that business leads can come from the most unexpected sources.
So here are some tips for maximizing the potential of networking events :
1. Relax. It can be daunting for some to engage strangers in conversation but remember that the purpose of networking events is precisely that – to meet new people. Therefore it is highly unlikely that others will reject you. If you prepare some conversation topics in advance it can help you relax.
2. Dress appropriately. We all have a tendency to judge the book by the cover, and it can be difficult to get over a bad first impression. Is your grooming and appearance consistent with the impression you want to create?
3. Work the room. Don’t be tempted to gravitate towards familiar faces as the whole point of networking is to expand your contact base. Likewise be aware of making summary judgements about someone based on their appearance or disposition. Talk to as many people as possible.
4. Engage and listen. Make eye contact, ask questions and be genuinely interested in what people have to say. Don’t interrupt others when they are talking or dominate the conversation. Don’t look around the room for someone else to talk to when engaged in conversation.
5. Prepare your ‘pitch’. Be very clear about how you want to introduce your business. This is a 30 second summary of who you are, what you do and the benefits you bring to your customers. It should be modified depending on the context. If you get this wrong it is highly unlikely that you will make the right connections. It needs to be understandable, irrefutable, conversational and compelling. Having said that don’t oversell or over promise. The objective is to establish initial interest in what you have to offer, there will be another time for follow up.
6. Join ‘open’ groups only. It will cause annoyance if you ‘break in’ on a closed group, who are engaged in private conversation. Individuals standing by themselves are clearly open to conversation. You will know by the body language which are ‘open’ and which are ‘closed’ groups. It is courteous to ask for permission to join a group conversation.
7. Prepare an exit. Every conversation will come to a natural end and you will want to talk to others. Be upfront about this. If you are in a one to one conversation you might suggest that both of you join another group rather than simply walking away from the other person. Likewise if you want to have a private conversation with say the keynote speaker at the event, be mindful of not monopolizing his time as others will want to talk to him as well.
8. Be prepared for follow up. Have business cards, pen and paper. Ask for permission to follow up with further contact, if this is what you want to do.
9. Follow up. If you make a specific commitment to follow up keep to it. Act while the contact is still fresh. You may wish to send a linked in invitation for example.
10. Be selective in the networking events you choose to attend. There is no point in your going to events which are unrelated to your business. That said if you are in the early stages of building your business the more events you attend the better, so don’t be too choosy !
Networking is not all about your agenda. Be generous when networking in offering support to others. Good relationships involve give and take, and what you give you will tend to attract.
If you have any doubt about the value of networking just remember that people generally only do business with those they know or who have been recommended to them by someone they trust. Face to face contact is key to building this trust.