Networking with local business people can generate more sales for both B2B and B2C companies. You’ll find that the opportunities at your chamber of commerce, BNI groups, or local independent networking events, when used strategically, will help you grow your business.
But, to be sure the time you spend pays off, treat your networking like a real campaign.
Your Plan of Attack–
Know your objective for the event. Is there a specific person you want to meet, or do you mainly want to catch up on the current happenings in the community and “be seen”?
If you know the purpose of the event and who is likely to attend, you can sync your objectives with the event.
NOTE: at most networking events you won’t obtain a new client or even get a firm appointment. If your objective is to get to know those in attendance to build a relationship for future business dealings, you’ll be more successful.
Your Logistics Management–
Did the sponsor ask for a response? If so, call by the deadline to let the host know you’ll attend. If you’re not familiar with the location, enter the address in a mapping program and print out a copy. Write the name and phone number of the sponsor on it and tuck it into your calendar or post it on your board where you can grab it on your way out.
Think about what time you want to get there. If a meal or program is scheduled, arrive early enough to meet and greet before the formal presentation. For a fluid event, arrive early enough to start up a conversation instead of trying to break into established groups.
Your Pre-Event Training–
Before you go, spend a few minutes thinking about what you’ll say and how you’ll behave.
* Practice your “30 Second Elevator Speech” until it sounds natural.
* Prepare a transition into a longer conversation.
* If you do get a chance to talk to one of your “targets” what impression or one major point do you want them to remember about you and your business?
* Get up to speed on current events – especially those that impact the community most of the attendees live and work in or the general business climate.
* What kinds of questions do you want to ask the other networkers?
* Think about how you want to end conversations too.
NOTE: Everyone at these events understands that the objective is to talk to many different people so short conversations are the norm.
Your Battle Dress–
Chose your outfit ahead of time. Don’t wear something new unless you’ve given it a trial run and are at ease in it.
Wear comfortable shoes if you”ll be standing for long periods. Nothing messes up your concentration like aching feet.
Ask the sponsor what style most attendees tend to wear. The location and time of day will also clue you in.
A breakfast meeting usually means office wear, since most people go on to work immediately afterwards; ditto for lunch meetings.
An evening meeting could mean office attire, a more business casual look or even dressy so ask, don’t guess, if you’re not sure.
Your Supply Chain–
Be sure you take plenty of business cards!
I can’t tell you the number of networking events I’ve attended where someone either didn’t bring cards or ran out. It makes me think twice about doing business with someone so unprofessional.
However, I tuck a few blanks into my card holder so, if I really want to follow up, the forgetful person can write out their contact info.
Having your own clip-on name tag isn’t a bad idea. You can prepare it ahead of time instead of scribbling on the sticky tags guests usually wear.
Use a business card wallet with two sides – one for your cards and one for those you collect.
Follow up is a whole separate topic but getting back to your office with all the contact information is what makes the networking event worth your time and energy.