While social media has become a popular way for business owners to connect, networking in person is still very important. There is something about getting in front of people and looking them in the eye while you discuss your businesses that you just can’t replicate through a keyboard. However, for some business owners, networking is tough. It can be intimidating to walk into a room not knowing anyone and have to introduce yourself and your business to a perfect stranger. Also, because networking often doesn’t return immediate results, it is easy to get frustrated and feel like its a waste of time. I can assure it is not!
Throughout my career I’ve been to countless networking events. Some were more beneficial than others and some just seem like a complete waste of time. As a small business owner, it is important that you network efficiently and effectively so you can make the most out of your time away from your business. Here are 3 networking tips every small business owner can use.
1. Think Ahead – Think about what it is that you are hoping to get out of each networking event that you attend. Is there someone in particular you are hoping to meet or are you looking to promote a specific service? Ask yourself these types of questions and based on your answers, develop your “elevator speech.” Tailor your elevator speech to the people you are networking with and be careful not to sound as though you are “selling them” the entire time you are talking to them. That is a big turn off!
2. Quality over Quantity – I’ve been a networking events where there are people literally bouncing from person to person trying to make as many contacts as they can. In my opinion, this is useless. You are better off having a few meaningful conversations with people you may actually end up doing business with or be able to share referrals with rather than meeting everyone in the room.
That being said, there is a certain art to getting into those conversations in the first place. There are many times when you are at an event, you start talking with someone and you realize it’s going no where. There is nothing wrong with moving on from those conversations in search of more productive ones, but if you get connected with someone that you can develop a rapport with, stick with them for a while and get to know them. They will be more likely to refer you if they feel they know you.
On the same note, you don’t want to spend the entire event talking to the same person, so manage your time wisely. Engage in meaningful conversations but if you find you have a lot to talk about, ask the person if you could schedule a time to sit down and talk in greater detail outside of the event. The key to being successful at a networking event is managing your time and engaging with the right people.
3. Follow Up – One big mistake that people often make is not following up after a networking event. If you meet someone that you “clicked” with and there is potential to have a good business relationship with them, follow up after the event. There are several ways you can do this. You can send a personalized email or a handwritten note (yes people still send handwritten notes, in fact it will set you apart from the 10 other people that sent a generic email or didn’t follow up at all). You can also connect with them on social media. I’ve done all three and which I choose usually depends on the conversation I had with the person.
If you’re going to connect on social media, I recommend starting with LinkedIn. Many professionals use LinkedIn to manage their professional relationships and save Facebook for their personal use. If they have a business page, you can also connect with their business page on Facebook but I wouldn’t recommend trying to friend them on Facebook right off the bat. I’ll talk about this in more detail in future posts but for now, if you want to connect via social media, I suggest starting with LinkedIn.
Networking does not have to be difficult or time consuming. When you enter events with a game plan and are prepared to have meaningful conversations with other professionals you will undoubtedly leave with new business connections. Also follow up after a networking event and remember, it doesn’t stop after one follow up. You need to keep your name in front of your new connection regularly so reach out from time to time to say hello!