Business networking is like a double-edged sword.
If executed correctly, it can easily prove to be a great marketing tool to help you grow your business. If, however, you don’t utilize it well, it will likely cause you more harm than good. So how do you tip the scales in your favor? Before you answer that question, you need to have the end goal in sight first: establish your credibility. Business networking, after all, is all about building rapport and forming meaningful relationships. If someone doesn’t trust you, they won’t bother getting to know you – much less do business with you.
Digital marketing is great, but sometimes you just need to get out of your office and actually meet people face-to-face. Here’s how you can use this often overlooked marketing strategy to your best advantage.
- Determine the events you want to go to. Just because it’s a networking event doesn’t mean you should automatically compel yourself to go there. It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, nor is it meant to be. Therefore, in order to avoid wasting your time, do your research in advance and decide on the events you can actually look forward to.
- Make a decision on groups and organizations. Should you formally join a local group? That’s up to you to decide, and your decision should be based on what you want to accomplish. Do you want a tightly-knit support group? Do you need business mentors? Or perhaps you’re more interested in simply meeting like-minded entrepreneurs at the moment, in which case going to events will do (no need for memberships just yet).
- Schedule an event like a business meeting. If you registered for an event, put it on your calendar and make it a point to show up, just like how you would for a business meeting. A lot of people have the tendency to sign up for events – and then completely forget they even registered for them in the first place.
- Choose your frequency. You can get a lot of benefits in networking. That being said, you don’t want to run yourself into the ground trying to fit as many events as possible. Your best bet is to choose a frequency that matches your personality and schedule. If, for example, you’re naturally an introvert, you probably wouldn’t want to be in a networking event every week – would you?
- Attend events with a goal in mind. Do you best to best to make the most out of the events you attend. Learn something new or reach out to someone you’ve never met before. That way, you take the pressure out of networking and instead enjoy yourself in the process.
- Prepare yourself for the event. If you’re there, be there. That means that if you’ve taken the time to attend an event, you owe it to yourself to come prepared. Check the dress code and dress appropriately. If there’s a program or agenda, review it and do a quick research if needed.
- Socialize. Networking events are a great place to meet new people. So whether you’re coming alone or with a colleague, use the opportunity to broaden your social circle.
- Be observant. Pay attention to your surroundings. This will be especially helpful for you if you’re just starting out with networking. By being particularly observant, you’ll be able to discern if the event suits you, or if there are people there you’re likely to be on good terms with. And don’t worry if it drops below your expectations; you’ll learn as you move from one event to another.
- Be intentional about meeting someone new. This cannot be stressed enough. You’re at a networking event to meet new people – not to sit with your colleagues or to stay glued alone at the bar. Even if it’s outside of your comfort zone – and it may be – make a conscious effort to meet someone for the first time.
- Look out for ways to help. If someone is alone and obviously nervous, perhaps you can reach out and introduce yourself. Or maybe you can offer someone a ride if they’re heading the same route after the event. It doesn’t have to be grand gestures; rather, it’s about you being sensitive enough to offer assistance without expecting anything in return.
- Practice discernment when handing out your business card. Just because you brought your business cards doesn’t imply that you should give them away to anyone you meet. Instead, give your business card only when someone asks for it.
- Have a good handshake. Why bother with something as seemingly important as a handshake? Because, contrary to what some people may think, handshake is actually a key indicator of a person’s level of confidence. You want your handshake to be firm, but not too firm.
- Learn how to be really present. If you’re talking with someone, pay attention to what they’re saying and look them in the eye. You may gain valuable insights that way, end up with a prospect business deal – or realize it’s probably not a good idea to keep in touch after the event. You won’t know these things unless you take the time to pay attention.
- Learn how to disengage properly. It’s great if you found someone who’s easy to talk to. But you don’t want to spend the entire event talking to just one person, do you? You can politely tell them you don’t want to monopolize their time or that there’s someone else you need to speak with. The point is to disengage properly and meet at least a few people.
Business networking may not be everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak, but it’s hard to deny that it can prove a valuable marketing strategy if you do it right. Utilize it to help you in your business, one event at a time.
Do you make it a habit to do business networking? If so, what kinds of events do you attend? Share with us in the comments.