When I started my business 15 months ago, I was a novice at networking. Like many small business owners I spend a good amount of my time networking to meet other business owners with the goal of bringing in new prospects. The purpose of networking is not to necessarily meet people who need your services.
The purpose is to get to know business people, and for other businesses to get to know you, so you can refer each other to those who need your or their products or services. Keep this in mind - it will help you be a more effective networker. Here are specific things that can help your networking efforts.
Have a positive attitude - It's not easy walking into a room of people you don't know. Take a deep breath and get started. Scout out a person you can start a conversation with.
Don't be timid - Walk up to people and introduce yourself. Use body language to gauge if people are in a deep discussion that you shouldn't interrupt. A group of people loosely standing together is likely one you can approach. A more closed group of people, deep in discussion is probably not one your should approach.
Don't sit through an event - When an event is a breakfast or lunch meeting, use the time before and afterward to mingle and talk to people. Avoid sitting at one table at evening events. Mingle with people who are standing and change tables after you've engaged some of those at your table.
Talk to people you don't know - It's easier to talk to people you know, but that won't help your broaden your network. But do take a break and touch base with someone at the meeting that you know. Compare notes on people you have met. It's an opportunity to make introductions to each other.
Be sure to engage several people - Don't spend the entire event with the same person. Spend some time getting to know people you meet, but be sure to engage a few over the course of a couple of hours.
Don't just walk up to people and hand them your business card - You are there to build relationships and just handing out business cards doesn't do that. Avoid blatant self-promotion in your conversation as well. Both are a big turn off.
Have topics of conversation ready - Start with icebreaker topics like the event or the organization, weather, news or sports. Try to find a common perspective or interest.
Engage the other person - Ask questions about their business - how they got started, what challenges they are facing, etc. They will appreciate that you took an interest in them and the conversation will be more memorage for you and them.
Suggest a tip, tool, book or website to help them out - This will make you more memorable and a resource for things not necessarity related to your business.
Have your elevator speech ready - You may the opportunity to share what you do with the group and you don'[t wnat to be unprepared. Be considerate of the other attendees and don't go over the amount of time allotted for each attendee.
Exchange information - Make sure the person you are talking with has your business card or brochure, and you have theirs, before you part ways.
Follow-up afterward - Take the opportunity to call or email, ask them if they found the tool, book or website that you recommended, or they want to get together to see how you can help each other in business.
Remember, its quality, not quanity that's important in networking. It's all about making connections to create opportunities.