One of the most effective tools for your small business is business networking since it provides a platform for you to meet like-minded persons and establish connections to promote growth and development, both individually and professionally.
The growth in virtual networking has actually translated to more opportunities for meeting other small business owners at networking events, with many events being actually free to attend. If you are booked onto an upcoming networking event, here are 7 ways to make the most of the opportunity:
1. Have a Strategy in Place
You should first consider what you would like to achieve:
- Generate referrals
- Learn new skills and gain new contacts
- Raise your company profile
If you’re new to networking, consider visiting as many events as you can, talking to regulars, and finding out whether the group actually fits in with your strategy before you make a regular commitment.
2. Have a Pitch
Create a simple 60-second ‘elevator pitch’ describing your objectives and business both clearly and concisely. You should ideally include your unique selling point and professional expertise.
Be memorable. What makes your business stand out from the crowd in a room full of others?
Bring marketing materials, props, and business cards to show off your expertise and help others understand exactly what you do.
Demonstrate how your service or product has helped others and quote testimonials from satisfied customers.
3. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
You will likely gravitate naturally towards those people you already know, but networking focuses on meeting people beyond your circle. If you find yourself in such a situation, scan the room for those you are yet to meet and facilitate the opportunity for them to join in the conversation.
Be on the lookout for new people and try remembering how you first felt after turning up somewhere new. A friendly introduction definitely goes a long way. Also crafting a personal mission statement is a great and simple way to do exactly recognise your own abilities in your own evolution.
4. Keep Attending
Networking is a slow burn and it will take a while to build up trust within a group. Attend networking events regularly, have an effective follow-up, and help other people. Networking is all about growing your network and building relationships. You might not get business from a networking event immediately, but one person you speak to may hold the key to several doors.
Take a keen interest in other people and find out what they would like to achieve from the meeting. See whether their values or objectives and find some common ground.
Are you able to help them through your own network contacts, or connections, or by making introductions that could be of interest either from a client perspective, a supplier need, or a strategic partnership?
Ask open-ended questions such as why who, and how. This helps to open discussions and show interest. You just might be surprised at what you are able to learn from others.
6. Follow Up
It isn’t just what happens at the event, it is what you do after that’s most important. Always be proactive in follow-ups. Use social media to connect with the people you meet. LinkedIn is one of the most popular platforms for this and can act as a virtual business card.
Having separate catch-ups with key persons outside of the networking sessions will help you avoid getting into lengthy conversations during the event that could end up preventing you from meeting other people.
7. Make Introductions or Referral
Where possible, always provide the person that you are referring to with a means of getting in touch directly with your contact, whether it is your phone number, email address, or LinkedIn.