Networking events have a simple structure. Walk into a room full of strangers, approach someone to talk about your business, move to the next person and repeat. It’s a daunting prospect for many people – but it doesn’t need to be. Here are my top five tips on how to make the most of events to build your contacts book, and eventually your business.
Manage your expectations
I often meet people who expect networking to result in immediate business. When it doesn’t, they write it off. But like any other marketing tool, networking doesn’t work as a one-off activity. For example, brands don’t place an advertisement in a newspaper one day and then sit back and wait for the orders to roll in. They advertise regularly, they create visibility, and they certainly don’t sit back and wait for the business to come to them.
Apply the same dynamics to networking. Network regularly, attend a variety of events with different groups of people, follow-up on leads and incorporate the events you attend into your wider marketing plan. Networking doesn’t work unless you do.
No one likes a hard sell, it’s that simple. If the person you’re talking to senses that you’re reeling off a sales pitch, they’re going to switch off.
The main purpose of networking is to promote business, and the best way to do this is to get to know people. By engaging in a conversation rather than a sales pitch, you may find that you both have a client in common, a mutual friend or similar interests. At urbanevents, one of our biggest client requests are Golf Days – you would be amazed how much business is done on the golf course! Once you’ve built up a rapport, your fellow networker is much more likely to be receptive when you go on to speak about your business. People are much more likely to do business with someone that they know and trust, so developing relationships with fellow networkers is essential.
Manage your time
To maximise your networking time, you have to do your homework. If you can, find out who else is attending the event and focus on those you most want to meet. When you get to the venue, ask the hosts to point them out.
If you happen to uncover a potential lead, unless it’s the deal of the decade, don’t spend the whole time chatting to one person. Once you know each other and your respective purposes for networking, you’ll know if there is potential for a business relationship. At this point, exchange business cards, make arrangements to meet again, excuse yourself and move on.
Be a connector
Within a few minutes of conversation with another networker, you should be able to determine if there is the potential for a direct business relationship. If there isn’t, don’t end the conversation abruptly as there may be an opportunity for other connections. Does this person have clients that would also benefit from your services? Do you have a friend who needs a product this person offers? Referral marketing, or simply ‘word-of-mouth’ marketing is an extremely useful tool especially for start-ups. By referring one contact to another you become a connector, also extending your own professional network. As this network expands so do your chances of being connected in the same way. The next time this person is at an event they might meet someone in need of your services. They can then direct them to you as a trusted contact. Don’t always excuse yourself from the conversation immediately; the fruits of networking aren’t always instantaneous.
Bring your business cards
Last but definitely not least; bring plenty of business cards – you would be surprised at how many people miss this basic element of networking! Turning up to a networking event without business cards is like fishing without bait – how are you going to catch anything?
Even in the early start-up phase, business cards are vital. Inexpensive runs can be arranged in copy-shops and they really do make a difference. Remember to be prepared at all times; just because an event isn’t labelled as ‘networking’ there is always an opportunity to make connections – sporting events and brunches included!