Business networking is essential for business owners and entrepreneurs. However, not everyone knows how to maximize the benefits of networking.
The purpose of business networking is to build solid and long-term relationships with other business people to enable you to get referrals, form partnerships, build alliances and so on. When you attend a business networking event, the purpose is to meet business people from various industries and increase your exposure.
What business networking is not
Business networking is not a numbers game; you need to focus on quality and not on quantity. You may think you’ve had a successful event when you’ve collected 30, 40 or more business cards, but you’re missing the point. How many of these 30 or 40 people will you be able to follow-up? How many will follow-up with you? Why collect a vast number of business cards that will end up forgotten in a shoe-box on a shelf?
Networking events aren’t places to sell either. You should be prepared to give your elevator pitch to introduce yourself, not give a sales pitch. If you attend an event expecting to find a client to close a sale right away, chances are you will be very disappointed. Furthermore, the other attendees might not appreciate your attitude.
What business networking is
Business networking is more than just shaking hands and collecting business cards. It’s about building relationships and being committed to helping other business professionals. It’s about the quality of your contacts not the number of your contacts.
Networking is also about consistency. It’s best to belong to two or three groups, attend their events regularly, participate and take the time to get to know other members. In exchange, members will get to know you and trust you. When you see the same people over and over, it’s likely that you’ll develop a strong relationship with them. The benefit of building relationships with a committed group of people will result in new referrals for your business.
Patience is key to effective networking. Benefits will not appear overnight. You need to follow up with your contacts. Networking is like dating, one meeting is not enough to know someone. It will probably take some time, and a few meetings before you start to trust each other and do business together.
Here are some tips on how to maximize the benefits of a networking event.
- Be prepared when you attend a networking event. Know your goals. Are you looking for referrals, partners, new clients, services?
- Bring your business cards and a pen to take notes on the back of the cards you receive.
- Have an effective 15 to 30-second elevator pitch ready. Learn how to sell yourself before selling your services or products. People want to hear about you first and when they know you and trust you, they will be more likely to buy your services or refer you to someone else.
- Have a brochure and/or a website. Some people may want to learn more about your business later, so give them the opportunity to get the information they are looking for.
- Be curious. When you meet people, ask about them, their business or services. People love to speak about themselves, so ask questions and listen to their answers.
- Be a problem-solver. People will be more interested in you if you tell them how you can solve their problem instead of just hearing your story.
- Go to people; don’t wait for them to come to you. Some people are very shy and will be very happy (maybe even relieved) if you make the first move.
- Go to an event with a friend, colleague, or client, and introduce people to each other.
- Send a thank you note or email to your new contacts. Thank them for their time and reintroduce yourself in a few lines. They’ll have met lots of people during the event and your business card doesn’t say everything about you. So, it’s good to reinforce your introduction.
- Give them the link to your website. Tell them about your newsletter, if you have one. These are effective ways to stay in touch on a regular basis.
- Schedule follow-up meetings with the people you had a good connection with to form a business relationship, or if you think that you can help them.
- Network again and again. You’ll see that networking can expand your contacts, which will help grow your business.
If you follow these tips, you will find yourself becoming more successful at business networking. Like everything else that matters in life and in business, it takes practice, patience and perseverance to succeed.