Networking. For some people, this skill—and yes, it is a skill—comes naturally. For others, having to network compares to having a root canal followed by a meal with the in-laws.
I’ll admit that I fall into the latter category. Networking has never been my favorite part of being a small business owner, but I’ve learned a few tricks over the years that have helped me maximize my time spent on this “necessary evil.” I’m happy to share these tips with others who might be like me.
First, I’ll mention that networking is a two-way street. I’ve encountered this myself often enough that I can attest to it. Wedding planners are frequently approached by vendors of other services asking that the planners recommend them, but the favor isn’t often returned. As with every business, planners are more likely to recommend quality vendors who send business their way than those who don’t. This is the nature of networking!
That said, let’s move on to some tips to maximize your networking time:
- Keep your pitch brief. Particularly when networking in person, avoid coming across like a used car salesman by listening to what people are looking for and identifying whether they have a need you can meet. If they do, make your business pitch short and concise. Know what’s different about your company and communicate it before you hand over your business card. (You always travel with business cards…right?).
- Break the ice. Sometimes the easiest way to make an instant, loyal business contact is to approach them and start a conversation. At networking events, scan the room for anyone who looks like they’re ready to make a run for the door. Greet them and let them do most of the talking. Even if they don’t fall into your target business contact category, they might know someone who does and could recommend you because you stick in their memory.
- Make notes. At most networking events, you’ll leave with a stack of business cards. If you’re like me, those cards will lose most meaning come the next day. Take a moment to jot notes on the cards of any contact with which you want to do business. Those notes will serve as great segues when you conduct your follow-ups. (You do follow up with strong contact leads, right?).
- Take the initiative. Is there someone you admire in the business world? Reach out to them. Comment on their social media posts, e-mail them in response to a recent press release, or see if they’re willing to do an interview for your blog. You never know where it might lead!
Networking doesn’t have to be a painful experience. If you make the most of your networking time, you’ll experience much reward for little investment. We’d love to hear your networking tips, so please comment below!