Although we blog a lot about new marketing methods, I wanted to write about one of the most traditional (and effective) methods that a small- to medium-sized business can use to market itself. Good old-fashioned NETWORKING…you know shaking hands, kissing babies and collecting business cards.
Networking is the flossing of business. We know we should do it, but we don’t really make time for it. Taking the analogy one step further, the dividends of networking only really pay off if you make it a part of your regular routine.
I used to be tentative about going to events, galas, business wine and cheeses, being on boards, committees etc. Often these events and meetings would happen before or after a busy day of work and it would make a long day even longer. Even worse, I’d have to go to networking events on my own; I’d wonder whether I’d know anyone at the event and whether I’m going to meet anyone who will be a relevant business contact. I went to nearly 50 to 100 networking events in the first two years we were in business, and the first thing I learned was to choose your events, boards and committees very wisely. Get yourself involved with networking opportunities where your target customers or people who are connected to your target customers congregate.
The second thing I learned was a 3-step formula that can be used at any business networking event. I hope these tips will help your conversations at networking events become easier and more meaningful.
Step 1: Introduce yourself
People at networking events are there to meet people they don’t know, so always remember it’s okay to introduce yourself to a complete stranger. If you’re ever at a networking event and want an excuse to meet a complete stranger but don’t know how to start the conversation, do this:
- Make eye contact with the person you’d like to meet, smile, and confidently/audibly say “Hi” in an upbeat tone. Extend your hand offering a handshake and say “I’m ______, have you been to one of these events before?/ what’s your name?/ what company do you work for?/ Where are you coming in from today?”
The key is to be friendly, introduce yourself and then ask the person you’ve just met an open-ended question. This all allows for an easy transfer into a conversation.
Step 2: Carry the conversation
After you’ve started a conversation with someone at a networking event, make sure you square up to them and communicate “open body language” (i.e. don’t cross your arms, slump your shoulders and look disinterested). You should maintain eye contact with the new person you met and ask them a few more questions about their business. It’s key to show genuine interest in the conversation you’re having. Get people to not only tell you about their line of work but also ask about their goals and vision for what they want to accomplish through their work. Also, it’s okay to talk about non-work-related topics at networking events, in fact, people find it refreshing.
Step 3: Ask to stay in touch
The most important part of meeting a new business contact at a networking event is to end the conversation by saying “Hey, it was great talking with you. I’d like to stay in touch. Do you have a business card handy?” and follow that sentence up with “are you on LinkedIn?” Ninety percent of the time people will say “yes” to this, in which case you’ll say “Great, I’ll add you to my LinkedIn contacts this week”.
Adding this person to your LinkedIn contacts is crucial because LinkedIn offers you a low-maintenance way to stay in touch and top of mind with the new person you met. Realistically when you meet someone randomly at a networking event they are not going to become a customer right away. However, if you can stay casually in touch with them via LinkedIn, they can educate themselves about your business through your LinkedIn Profile and social media updates. If they see value in the info you provide over LinkedIn, they may get in touch to do business with you or refer you to someone who could become a customer.
How about you? What are your best networking tips?