With the exception of a few weirdos like me, most people dread going to networking events.
What should you say?
What if you don’t know anyone in the room and you feel awkward?
What if you don’t make a single productive business connection, and you waste hours of your time?
There is no way to be 100% sure that a business networking event will be a good use of your time.
Here are three ways to ensure that the time you do spend is enjoyable and productive:
Choose your events wisely
Instead of signing up for the first business event or conference that you hear about, think about the type of event that will be most aligned with your current business goals.What is your main objective at this stage of your business?
–Do you need clients? If so, go to an event that is likely attended by lots of ideal clients. A great way to identify ideal clients is, as Susan Baier says, to market to the problem.
–Do you need partners? If so, go to an event with high-caliber peers.
–Do you need funding or promotion? If so, go to an event with lots of connected people with money and resources.
Some events may have a combination of all three. Even if this is the case, know what your primary business objective is going in, so that you don’t make the mistake of spending the whole time with potential partners, and ignoring great potential clients.
Have a plan going in
It is too much pressure on yourself and those you meet to go into a first-time networking event and “close business.” In fact, I discourage people from jumping into a business relationship too soon, before you have each had the change to get to know, like and trust each other. (This is one of those cases where business relationship building is exactly like dating.)
As a general principle, I agree with Zig Zigler that
“You will have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
A winning networking role is to be an interested, helpful person who is enjoyable to be around.
There are many ways, as I wrote in a prior post, to make your network a vibrant glitter ball of awesome.
For each event, you want to get really clear and prepared for your primary business objective.
–If you go to meet clients, have a relaxed and confident introduction. Here is some detailed instruction for a great introduction from my friend Clay Hebert.
–Choose an outfit that makes you feel your most beautiful confident self. Depending on the event, that could range from your favorite rock and roll tee shirt, to a comfortable outfit that makes you feel like a million bucks. I realize it may seem superficial to think about such things, but it really does matter that your outer package matches your inner awesomeness. First impressions count!
–If you are not a natural conversationalist, prepare a good list of questions you can ask someone to find out more about them and their business. (“What brought you here?” “I’d love to hear more about what you do.” “Who is an ideal client for you, and why?”)
Have a follow up plan going out
The place where the most value is lost from networking events is not following up in a timely manner with the great people you meet at the event.
I am just as guilty of this as the next person. In fact, starting last week, my colleague Yolanda Facio began helping me process the huge stacks of cards I gathered from networking events over the last 12-18 months. (If you are new on this list, maybe you got this message! Welcome!)
So before you attend the event, decide:
–What you will do with the business cards you collect. If you have a pre-drafted thank you email with some kind of call to action (an invitation to join your email list, a resource to send to them, a link to your LinkedIn profile, etc), that can make it much easier to follow up. You can still put in a custom note, but you won’t have to create everything from scratch.
–Time in your calendar for following up. If you schedule time in your calendar the next day or two after a networking event specifically for follow up, you are much more likely to do so in the magic 7 day window. After that time, it becomes increasingly awkward to follow up (still not impossible!).
–How to reflect on and process your experience at that event. Did you love that event and meet a lot of great people? Find out when the next few are, and book them in your calendar. Did you gain some valuable insight from conversations or speakers? Note how you want to share those insights in social media, or through blog posts or videos. Did you have a really mediocre time? Go through your calendar and take out any similar events that aren’t worth your time.
These small things do not take a lot of time, but can make a big difference in the return on your investment of time and energy at networking events.
It is so important to get out and meet people who you would love to work with. A vibrant network means a vibrant business and life.