Networking is a key way to generate leads and get to know other business people; particularly if you run a small business or are growing. Events vary in format and the type of businesses they attract. However there are some key things you should bear in mind, no matter what the event is, that will make it more successful for you.
1. Choose the right event for you
Your time is valuable, so make sure you make the most of it by going to networking events that are suitable for your business. If you can, take a look at the list of the attendees before going, which may be available, to make sure the kind of businesses you want to connect with will be there.
Don’t be afraid to try out an event to get the feel for it and if it’s not right for you, try a different one. Once you find an event that works for you, you should be able to build relationships with regular attendees and still meet new people.
2. Be prepared – bring plenty of business cards
Make sure you bring lots of business cards and that they are clean, up-to-date and easily accessible at the event, so there’s no awkward pause whilst you dig through your bag when someone asks you for it. When receiving a business card, show interest by taking a moment to read it before putting it away.
Some people find it useful to write details about the contact on their card, such as the name of the event, the date and reminders to include in your follow-up.
3. Be able to articulate what you do, why, for whom and what makes it special
At our networking breakfasts you’ll be given the opportunity to talk about your business for one minute at the table, you’ll then swap tables several times during the event. It’s important that you’re able to talk about your business in a clear and concise way – this will help you grab the attention of the people on your table and make them want to know more about you and your company. It’s important to be able to do this at any kind of networking event as it’s a great ice-breaker and will help you give a meaningful impression of what you do.
4. Be active - not a wallflower
If you’re shy or nervous about meeting new people or walking into a room full of people gives you the cold sweats, remember that people going to networking events are there to make new contacts, make a good impression and are interested in finding out about what others are doing.
If you don’t know how to approach a group of people, look for someone standing by themselves, the chances are they’ll be glad you approached them, or start with smaller groups of two. It’s important to be active and take part in the event if you’re going to get the most out of it.
The Business West team are happy to make introductions. If you’d like to meet someone in particular ask them to introduce you.
5. Introduce yourself confidently
We all know the importance of first impressions so to ensure you make a good one, when meeting someone for the first time, say your name and your company loudly and clearly; there can be lots of background noise at networking events so make sure they can hear you. Convey confidence by making eye contact, smile and make your body language open and friendly.
6. Display your name badge clearly
You will be given a name badge at the beginning of the event. It’s good etiquette to make sure you wear this clearly, at eye level and not obscured by long hair or accessories.
Don’t wear it on your hip or your bag and if you remove your jacket, remember to move your name badge. This will not only help people identify you but will also help people if they’ve forgotten your name and may save embarrassment.
7. Don’t spend the event catching up with friends
You may already know a number of people at the event and it’s important to say hello and continue to build those connections however, networking is also about expanding your network so make the effort to make new connections.
8. Don’t sell
Whilst it’s important to be able to articulate what you do in a short ‘elevator pitch’, it’s also important not to ram your company down someone’s throat. You’ll have more chance of success by making genuine conversation, building rapport and showing interest in what the other person has to say. You’re trying to develop a relationship with someone so be generous, not self-serving.
9. ‘Work’ the event
After you’ve spent around 5 – 10 minutes talking to someone, let them move on so you can both meet someone new. Be mindful of other people’s time as everyone’s there to network. An easy way to close a conversation gracefully is to say, “It’s been nice talking to you.” or “Good to meet you, I look forward to talking with you again.”
Don’t make promise to contact them if you don’t intend to. This would be a good time to exchange business cards if you have agreed to follow-up with them.
It’s important to follow-up your connections, especially if you said you would! If you get a list of attendees, don’t blanket email them but build on the connections you did make. Keep in touch by sending them a personal email or calling and connecting with them on LinkedIn, no longer than a week after the event.
If you said you would send them more information about your company make sure to do that. If there’s something you think would be useful to them, like an introduction to another contact or a link to valuable information, it will show you are thinking of their needs and they will be more likely to value the connection.