Do you attend business networking events regularly? If not, why not? They are an effective and inexpensive way to market yourself and your business. You can mingle with other business people in a casual environment, enjoy some food, talk shop, and along the way pick up some new contacts. Some of those folks are right in your backyard, figuratively if not literally.
There are a couple principles to keep in mind about networking events. First, be patient. If it’s your first event for that business networking group, the attendees may not know you. You need time to build rapport and relationships. That will require more than one event, so plan on networking regularly. You will be remembered over time.
Second, like all business relationships, those that are conceived during a networking event should be done so with mutually beneficial intentions in mind. As you will note from the suggestions that follow, you’ll spend a significant amount of time getting to know the other attendees, their needs, and so on. It’s a twist on the old saying, “It is better to give than to receive.” As Zig Ziglar famously said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
How to get the most out of a business networking event
You’ve decided to attend a networking event. What should you do?
1. Take the initiative. You are a salesperson, so you should be accustomed to being forward. Sure, you will be approached during the meeting, but get in the habit of introducing yourself. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Oh, that person doesn’t want to talk with me.” This isn’t a teen dance. Everyone is there to mingle. Start mingling.
You can also open with the time-honored (and boring), “What do you do?”, but why not be more engaging? Here are some possible openers:
“Hi, I’m XXX. Pleased to meet you. What is your firm known for?” (If you can read the company name on the person’s name tag, use that. It’s a nice touch.)
“What are some of your strengths and challenges?”
“Say, did you hear about…?” (Open with a conversation about current events.)
Once you have started talking, continue with probing questions:
“What’s new in your business or industry?” If you haven’t asked #’s 2 and 3 above, do so.
“Any products or services you are trying to promote or emphasize?”
“Who are your ideal customers?”
These last two are to help you with your potential referral efforts.
Other ways you can help your fellow attendees:
2. Offer advice freely. This is fairly common, as it occurs in normal conversation. But don’t hesitate if a person asks a pointed question. While you may prefer to have the person stop by for official consultation, giving up some advice for free leaves a good impression. That person is more likely to think of you when the need arises next.
3. Listen for chances to make referrals. If you hear of a need you think could be addressed by another attendee, introduce those individuals to each other. They will benefit immediately, but you can bet both will also remember you.
4. Help others to network more. If you encounter a newcomer to the area or event, talk about the other networking events available. You will help that person succeed which, like in the example above, can mean good things for you long-term. But remember the tenet of networking: give without the expectation of any return. You are truly helping from the heart.
At some point you will talk about yourself and your business. Now it’s time for your “elevator speech.” Develop a benefit-oriented statement, and one that really piques the interest. Ideally, you want the person to respond with, “Oh, how do you do that?” or another open-ended question. Here are two examples:
“I help businesses such as yours promote themselves better in these tough economic times.”
“I help people get out of debt.” (Interestingly, the person using this line was not in the debt servicing arena. He owned a home-based business. The idea was that as his affiliates became successful, they paid off their debts.)
The more you think and talk in terms of benefits, the more interested the other person will be.
Follow up critical after business networking event
After the meeting, make sure you log all your contacts, and send out thank-you messages. E-mails are satisfactory, but a card is better. Remember to follow up on any promises you made. If you offered to do some research, by all means do so.
Spend a few moments today writing down the business networking opportunities available to you. Those include chamber of commerce meetings, business or trade association meetings, networking groups and organizations (MeetUp, BNI, and such), as well as the myriad less structured networking groups that meet for breakfast throughout the month. Commit to attending at least two networking events each month. Rest assured: Your efforts will pay off, literally.
A final word. If you don’t feel comfortable attending business networking events, you may consider courses in speaking or professional development. Toastmasters and Dale Carnegie are two great programs. The confidence you gain taking those courses carries with you throughout life. I can attest to the value of Toastmasters. I am a lot more confident during the networking events and look forward to them.
For related reading, see “Additional tips for attending business networking events“ and “A successful business requires strong organizational skills, branding efforts”
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