Some networking tips tell you to make new connections with an eye toward bringing in new business, but effective networking involves a lot more than simply collecting business cards. In fact, you should never give out your business card without first establishing a personal connection. Otherwise, your card will likely end up in the circular file we call the trash bin.
Success at networking also requires more than just showing up and shaking hands. You have a brief amount of time to project an image that’s interesting and memorable. Here are some networking tips for making a great first impression:
Smile; if you’re not genuinely happy to be there, then stay home. Smiling projects a positive and welcoming demeanor but should be sincere.
Ask questions and listen to what people say.
Don’t try to control a conversation.
When you join a discussion, listen closely and make comments that show you’re listening.
Talk about your business only when asked a specific question. Speak casually about it, rather than pushing for a sale. A little more about this...
Whatever you do, start with them first. The first time you meet someone, don't come on heavy - it's a lot like dating. You need to get to know them first. Social media networking such as Linkedin is a perfect example of this problem. You get a new connection request and you connect. The very first message you get from them is a sales pitch. That's a huge turnoff. That tells me you're in this for you and have no interest in really developing a relationship. You don't even know if I need your service or product. I immediately disconnect from that connection when that happens. This is the same in a professional offline networking group - don't make a sales pitch the very first time you meet someone.
Networking Takes a Commitment
Most networking meetings require some financial commitment, such as a Chamber of Commerce membership, lunch fee or professional membership fee. It’s well worth the investment. At networking meetings, you have opportunities for:
Introducing yourself to others
Telling a group of business people about your company
Connecting with potential referrals
In addition to the financial commitment, networking requires a significant investment of time as well. Meetings may take an hour or more, but you also need to be able to take time to get to know others in your group outside the meeting. That’s called the Opportunity Cost. Attending just two networking sessions a week may cost you at least three hours of your time, not including travel time.
Explore and Test
Because networking groups take time and financial commitment, be choosy. Explore and test. How?
Look up networking groups on Meetup, Eventbrite, Facebook Groups, Linkedin Groups (many social networking groups like the ones on Linkedin often have a "offline" meeting to put faces to profiles).
Choose at least 1 to explore each week. Let them know you would like to attend as a guest.
Usually, each group has a "membership" person and that person can walk you through the benefits, costs and features of their group.
Sometimes you need to go to more than 1 meeting to test it out.
Choose at least one person in that group to have coffee or lunch with so you can pick their brain a bit about what they think of the meeting. Ask them why they joined and what they get out of it.
Rinse and repeat this for a month or two and by the end, you will know which group fits your needs.
Networking Tips to Keep Regular Meetings Stimulating
Familiarity makes for good business. You may attend networking meetings on a weekly or monthly basis. But then those meetings may lull you into complacency, as the same people continue to share the same messages time after time.
Here are some networking tips to help you make each event different and enjoyable, for you and the group:
Tell the group the three words you want them to remember about you — and what they mean.
Tell them something they probably don't know about your business.
Give them an example of a recent client you've worked with who was challenging in some way — and how you handled it and the solution you came up with.
Tell them what a day in your life is like.
Tell them why you left an established company.
Tell them why you chose your career path.
Tell them something personal - like what you do when you're not working
Networking Tips for Giving Presentations
If you’re scheduled to present, the last thing you want to do is put on a dull, forgettable talk. Here are some networking tips for spicing up your presentations:
Don’t just stand there and point at a slideshow. While a PowerPoint presentation is better than standing motionless and talking for 10 minutes, the goal of an effective presentation is to combine visuals with interesting information.
Go beyond handouts. Bring in your tools of the trade, samples of your products or some other physical example of your work that you can pass around or display. Adult show and tell is just as fun as it was in grade school.
Involve the group. Ask questions. Let them participate in an exercise to get them engaged. You can even give out prizes at the end!
Humor goes a long way. Keep it light!
If you’ve given an overview presentation before, use your next opportunity to dive deeper into a particular aspect of your business.
Make the most of your presentation, whether it’s 60 seconds or 10 minutes. Ask a friend or colleague to record it for you on a smartphone. It’s amazing how often you can reuse that video. Edit it and you can share on your website or on social media sites, such as Facebook or Instagram.
How to Avoid Disappointing Results from Networking
You’d like to think that everyone at a networking event takes it seriously — at least when they have an opportunity to get more business. Yet sometimes, your emails to members of the group go unanswered. And you may even hear members say they’re too busy to take on more clients!
Don’t be like that person. If you’re too busy to network, then don’t go to the meeting or send a substitute.
Other networking tips include a recommendation to follow up with any prospects.
Following up means:
First of all, take those business cards and connect with them on Linkedin.
Follow their business social media accounts. By doing that you will begin to learn more about them.
Return all calls for more information
Making time for meetings with potential clients even when your schedule seems overloaded
Be sure to add any contacts to your CRM system if you have one (and you should).
A networking meeting is where a conversation can begin, but don’t let it end there. It doesn’t take long to craft an email or pick up the phone. Get in touch with people you’ve met within 48 hours of the networking event. This lets prospects know you’re interested and available, and it makes the time you spent networking worthwhile.
When to Network?
It's hard to find time to network and build those important connections when you're busy. We all have slow periods in our businesses and that's always a good time to get out, test and practice your pitch! Winter is the best time for me - January through March I hit the ground. Whatever your slow time... that's the best time to get it going.
We hope you found these tips useful and look forward to seeing you out there in the next few weeks!