Most people who are looking to grow their business or create sales leads attend networking events on a frequent basis. They are a great way to start building new relationships that can lead to business partners, referrals, and sometimes even new clients. Here are five tips to help you maximize your networking experience.
1. Don’t Set Your Expectations Too High
Don’t expect to walk away with five new clients and 20 new leads. Unfortunately nothing, especially networking, is that easy. Start from the ground up and realize that networking is just a tool to help you begin the process of building relationships. Ideally these relationships may turn into clients down the line. You may form relationships with potential vendors, business partners, or referral sources.
2. Don’t Be Superficial
The worst way to build relationships is to shove your business card in the hands of every attendee and tell them why you are the best at what you do. It’s great that you gave out tons of business cards, but chances are when you go to follow up, no one will take your call. The problem – you didn’t start to build any kind of connection. You can’t plan on conquering the whole entire audience. Instead, have longer more fact-finding conversations with several people. Try and find a personal connection and work with that. Make sure to ask each person about them and what they do, then… listen! Don’t pitch/sell – there will be plenty of time for that later on.
3. Navigate The Room Smartly
It’s very intimidating to walk into a room full of strangers and start introducing yourself. Most times people like to bring a crutch with them. This could be a co-worker or a friend. The problem is, most of the time if you bring someone you know too well you end up sitting at a table with them and shying away from the meaningful, tough part of the evening – making new relationships. My advice — leave the wing man/girl at home and be brave. Find someone in the room who isn’t already engaged in a conversation (chances are they are feeling the same way you are) and go up to them and simply say, “Hi, my name is XXX and you are?” It’s guaranteed to get a conversation started. Another helpful hint is to find someone you already may know because he/she will most likely introduce you to someone else.
4. Be Different
Some networking events include an elevator pitch. It’s usually either at the start of the event or at the end and everyone will go around, stand up, introduce themselves, and tell people what they do. While it’s not easy, try and come up with something (in advance) that will help you stand out. Maybe try asking a question and engaging the audience instead of blurting a list of every service you provide.
5. Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up
Once you leave the event don’t get too comfortable and think that your hard work is done. The truth is, it has only started. You need to follow up and possibly even start meeting some of the people for coffee or breakfast. You can also use social media to keep in touch with people you met. They can be your next big client or introduce you to your next big client, but only if you give the relationship some time to grow.