Do try a few different networking groups to see which ones suit you best. You might find that a hard contact network is the one for you if you want to see a faster ROI and actively attend meetings regularly, or you may prefer a casual contact network, particularly if you are time-poor and cannot commit to attending every week. Contact your local Chamber of Commerce and City or County Enterprise Board to find out about networking meetings and events taking place near you and also keep an eye on local newspapers and magazines where you will often see events advertised. Another great resource is of course the internet, so a few searches should point you in the right direction.
Don’t join a networking group with the sole idea of selling to others. You will receive a frosty reception if your plan is to turn up once or twice and then give people the hard sell every time you are there. Remember – networking is a two-way street and no one likes to feel as if they are being sold to at every opportunity. At two networking events I attended recently, one guy asked me directly if I could “find” him some clients and another person just came straight over and asked, “I need to get some clients asap, so what can you do for me?” Needless to say these are two people I now avoid like the plague whenever I see them.
Do practice your Elevator Pitch and try to keep it to between 30 and 60 seconds – any longer and people will be excusing themselves to get more coffee.
Do listen to others and take the time to get to know them, their business and what they do. If you take the approach that you can only actively refer business to people you get to know well and build a relationship with, then your success rate at networking effectively will be much, much higher. By referring business to people we know we can be absolutely sure that the particular business or service we are recommending really is fantastic. Who wants to recommend a business or service they don’t really know anything about? All you’ll end up with is an unhappy client or friend who comes back to you afterwards with complaints about the service they received – and you definitely don’t want that.
Don’t forget to bring your business cards and lots of them. Networking events are the perfect opportunity to hand out business cards and take cards from others. There is nothing worse than arriving at an event and then realizing that a potential client or customer is right there but you have nothing to give them.
Do try to mix as much as possible and “work” the room effectively. If you only go to one networking meeting per month, make it count. Talk to as many people as you can and get there early so that you can maximize your time.
Don’t be nervous – I know this is easier said than done when you are not used to networking and it can be daunting walking up to a complete stranger and introducing yourself, but remember that everyone is in the same boat and even the most seasoned networkers had to start somewhere. Everyone who attends these events has a common goal – to grow their business and grow their network of contacts so take a deep breath and be brave!
Finally, do arrange one to one meetings outside of the networking meetings. These are absolutely invaluable for getting to know people properly and really finding out about their business and services. By arranging one to one meetings we take the most proactive approach possible in trying to grow our business and you never know… you just might arrange a one to one meeting with someone who turns out to be a friend, a client, a customer, or even someone who will refer you to another person they know who needs exactly what your business provides!