Making Connections: Tips for Successful Business Networking
It’s funny…the things you remember about people.
I only met him once, although I didn’t actually meet him. It was at an engagement party, and this well-dressed 20-something, a friend of a guest, had put himself at the center of the conversation. I stayed along the perimeter of his circle of polite listeners as he pontificated about his business. I couldn’t tell you much of anything he said, except for one thing:
“You’re really on your own. If someone isn’t bringing me business, they are useless to me.”
I was only a teenager, but even I knew enough to realize that this big shot was not only boorish, but also tremendously shortsighted. As I grew older and eventually started my own business, I always remembered the importance of developing relationships.
Networking has added much to my life, as well as my business. We are fortunate to be entrepreneurs in a time that offers so many opportunities for networking. Whether in person or online, the chances to make connections are numerous. Keep in mind, however, that these opportunities can cut both ways. Used well, they can offer you many business relationships that can last for years. Used poorly, they can result in you doing your business far more harm than good. It is crucial to understand what networking is…and is not…to be able to do it effectively. Remember this:
Networking IS building relationships and developing trust. It is about meeting people, asking questions, listening, and getting to know people. It is about helping and sharing.
Networking IS NOT an opportunity for a sales pitch. This is neither the time nor the place for the hard sell, nor is it the venue in which your primary thought should be snagging new clients.
So how do you network effectively? Let’s start today with the valuable opportunities that present themselves in the form of live events (clubs, seminars, local events, etc.). You begin before you even enter the door.
BEFORE YOU GO
Decide which events are best for you to attend. Not all events are a “fit” for you or your business.
Attend with an open mind. Going in ready to learn something new is not only a healthy attitude, but it also keeps you from talking too much about yourself.
Make sure that you are dressed appropriately and have your business cards readily available.
Turn the cell phone to vibrate! Nothing turns people off quite like an incessantly chiming cell phone. Do not plan to take any non-emergent calls during this time.
ONCE YOU ARRIVE
Stop and look around the room. This will give you the chance to take a breath and focus before approaching anyone.
Break off from people you know. You are there to meet people you don’t know.
See someone alone? Approach them and introduce yourself. It is very likely that they are nervous in this setting, and your reaching out to them will be appreciated and remembered.
Since it will be difficult to remember everyone you meet, make an effort to connect very well with two or three people.
When talking with someone, be mentally and physically present. Listen so that you can ask relevant questions. Maintain eye contact while engaged in conversation. Letting your eyes wander around the room while talking or listening suggests to the individual that you are bored with them and looking for your next contact. Often people do not realize they do this, and yet it speaks unpleasant volumes about them!
Speak pleasantly, confidently and clearly. Without making it into a sales pitch, let people understand how you can help them, even in a non-business way. For example, if the person with whom you’re speaking is a theater buff and you have access to discounted tickets, this would be a wonderful way to start a relationship.
Disengage in a polite manner. For one reason or another, you may have to end a conversation. Some individuals make that easier for you to do than others. You can simply excuse yourself to the restroom. You can tell them that there is someone with whom you need to have a word. You can explain that you do not wish to take up all of their valuable time. Always remember to thank them for their time to ask for their business card. Deftly done, you can leave a conversation in a positive manner and with no hurt feelings.
AFTER THE EVENT
Send along a note (handwritten is a nice touch) to the people you met. It could be to thank them for their time, to express the pleasure you had meeting them, or to offer to schedule a meeting, coffee, or lunch.
When you do offer to arrange a one-on-one meeting with someone with whom you really connected, be sure to call and follow up on it.
Put the email addresses of those people you met on your email, newsletter, or ezine list only if they requested that you do so.
Do not forget to fulfill any promises you made to someone you met there (Remember the theater buff and your discount ticket connections?).
While your goal as an entrepreneur is to improve your business and increase your sales, these are not the first fruits of business networking. What comes initially are the relationships that develop with people we can help and who can help us. Ironically, when we de-emphasize the selling aspect, these relationships will, in one way or another, lead to increased sales over time. Even that business owner who may not seem to have much to offer you today, may be the connection who, tomorrow, brings business to you in ways you hadn’t foreseen. Networking takes time and effort, but it proves to be more than worth the investment, sometimes in ways we hadn’t imagined.
This post is from Bola Olonisakin, Creative Head & Online Strategist at GTechDesigns LLC. Bola specializes in web design and development techniques, standards and methodology. She works to enable organizations to grow their web strategy and increase the visibility of their websites. If you’re interested in improving your web presence, feel free to contact her at [email protected], or @gtechdesigns on Twitter. This post was originally posted at www.gtechdesigns.com.