Does networking make you nervous? It may help to know you’re not alone. Many people dread networking, but with the tips below, even the shyest business owner can get comfortable connecting—and get more out of networking events.
1. Set a goal. Know what you want to get from each networking event, whether it’s meeting with customer prospects, connecting with potential partners, finding suppliers or simply gaining industry knowledge and best practices.
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2. Be prepared. Bring twice as many business cards as you think you’ll need, especially if it’s a multi-day event like a trade show or conference. Ensure that your business card reflects you and your business clearly and vividly. Consider a custom logo or design – It’s an easy way to make you a trade show standout.
3. Have an “elevator pitch.” Be able to describe what your business does in such a way that someone who knows nothing about your industry could understand it. Focus on how your company can benefit customers, but keep it brief (Example: “Our clients save an average of $10,000 when they sell their homes.”).
4. Mix it up. It’s fine to attend an event with a friend, but be sure to split up and spend time meeting new people. Remember, the goal is to form new business contacts and increase customer leads. Create a list of predetermined people or types of relationships you would like to build prior to the event.
5. Be friendly. If you struggle to start conversations, begin by asking people about themselves—a subject everyone loves to talk about. Make yourself a notecard to keep in your purse or wallet of thoughtful, open-ended questions to spark conversations on the show floor. Practice ways to end conversations gracefully so you (and the person you’re talking to) can maximize your time at the show meeting new people and building contacts.
6. Attract attention. Wearing something that stands out, yet professional such as a colorful scarf or tie creates a conversation piece and makes you memorable
7. Be a giver. Focus on how you can help others, rather than what they can offer you. This allows you to make connections in a way that feels natural and meaningful to your new contacts.
9. Take the lead. Don’t just attend events—offer to take charge by heading a committee, chairing a panel or giving a speech. It raises your profile, so you’ll meet more people. Most shows offer pre-event social activities such as receptions, cocktail hours and other event-sponsored events. Take advantage of these “after-hours” opportunities and make the most of your time away from regular floor hours.
10. Follow up. Nurture new relationships after the event by sending an email or inviting the people you meet to connect on social media. Find attendees on social and follow them. Retweet relevant content with positive comments to engage in conversation. Posting timely updates from the show using relevant hashtags is another way to make connection points at the show, engage with others and gain industry-specific followers on social.
11. Offer something of value. Send people a link to an article you think they’ll enjoy; offer to introduce them to someone who could help their business; or mail them additional information about your business such as a brochure, booklet, tip sheet or newsletter.
12. Use tech tools. After each event, don’t forget to catalog your new contacts and their business cards into your contact management or CRM system. Store information about them based on your conversations to create a personal touch when following up. This will create a more memorable follow-up and also help you differentiate all of your new contacts. Don’t forget to set up calendar reminders to keep in touch to stay connected and top-of-mind.
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.