Some people, it seems, are natural born networkers. Drop them in a crowded room and two hours later, they'll know 25 new people and their life story. Others, not so much. If you aren't a natural born networker, then you either feel like a fish out of water at these event, gasping and grasping at something to drink, or you just don't go to them. Either way, networking is part of building most businesses and while social media can give us the illusion of networking, the reality is that the social part really does require off-line, face to face conversation.
So, with the goal of giving you a bit more confidence and poise (if you are that fish) or helping you to do what you do, even better, we'd like to share our top 5 tips for effective networking with you. In David Letterman fashion...
#5 -Make sure you have enough business cards
How many times have you gone to an event and asked for a business card from the person you are talking to and they reply, I don't have one with me. Really? You should always bring at least 100 cards with you. There is nothing worse than running out.
#4 - Ask permission to send your newsletter or marketing content
When you do get a business card from someone, you should always ask for permission to send them your newsletter or out-takes from your blog. If you are building a relationship with that person, you don't want to damage the progress you have made by sending them unsolicited email. I rarely have someone say please don't send me information.
#3 - Be approachable
It is amazing to me, with the number of events that I attend, how many people hang out in herds. They will stay talking with people they know. You are there to network, not socialize. People go to where the food is. If you are nervous about mingling, hang out by the food and people will come to you. Make a name tag that makes people stop, look at it and ask questions. Be approachable, smile -be engaging
The last two are tied in my mind and the biggies:
#2 - Make sure that you are building relationships, NOT SELLING
Have you ever gone to an event and someone comes up to you, pushes their business card in your face and proceeds to talk all about how great they are and their company is? How did you feel about that person? Don't treat the evening as a race to see how many people you can tell about your company. Seek to learn about others!
Come with a conversation starter. Example - How did you get into your industry? Who is your ideal customer? What is the current trend in your industry? The idea is to get to know them better. As you begin talking, they will ask you in return. Remember we have 2 eyes and one mouth and should use them proportionately.
Instead of selling, ask for help. Ask them for something that you want or something that would make a big difference in your business. Ex - Do you know someone who......, is your ideal client and what they might being saying if they needed your service or product; has a service or product that you have been searching for; is in your circle of influence you would like to meet; or provides a resource you have been looking for. Ask them how you can help them.
Networking is really about building great referral relationships, not selling to that person at that moment. Wouldn't it be great to meet someone who knows 10 other people that might need your services?
#1 Before you go to an event, put together a plan and a strategy on how to achieve that plan.
Spend some time thinking about your ask from the point above, prior to the event. What are you looking for. That way it will come naturally to you.
Decide who you want to meet and how many people you want to meet. If you can see who's attending before the event, decide up front who you want to meet. Don't try to meet everyone. If you can begin to build a relationship with 3 - 5 more people, think what that could do for your business! Use LinkedIn to learn more about them and who they are connected to.
When you've finished the event, don't just say phew, that's over. If you want to have all that work pay off, set aside time the following day for follow up.
One of the biggest mistakes we find people making is not following up with the people that they meet. One evening is not enough to build a relationship! Set an appointment for coffee or lunch shortly after the event to continue getting to know each other and how you can help each other. That's the time to talk more about your business and how you can help people. Don't just meet with them once. Make sure when you leave that appointment, you have agreed to your next coffee or lunch, or if you've really hit it off, think about how you can start to work together - for example, writing for each other's blog (you do have one, right?)
Business relationships are built by humans for human, and we get to know, like and trust each other the fastest when we are face to face. So take advantage of the chamber mixer, industry association meeting or local business group. Get out and press the flesh (and don't forget your business cards).