Professional networking is often a fun perk of running a business: You get to meet new people, share ideas, make connections and promote your business, all in one setting. However, make no mistake, you will need a strategy when going to networking events, whether you’re running your own company or networking for a large corporation.
According to Fast Company, people generally either love networking but claim it takes up too much of their time, or they dislike networking but consider it a necessary evil. Truth be told, networking requires you to be a conversationalist, which can be tough if you’re introverted or just started networking for your company.
To master your meet-and-greet skills for your next event, keep these excellent networking practices in mind:
1. First impressions really do matter: In addition to dressing the part, you will need to make eye contact with each individual you talk to. It’s easy for eyes to wander at a networking event, so make sure that you are focused during conversation. That said, networking is supposed to be loose and relaxed, so keep the conversations casual.
2. Become an active listener: You’ll definitely want to mention your business during some point in the conversation, but you might come off as pompous if you talk too much. Networking is as much about listening as it is talking. Interacting with potential clients is important – figure out areas where their business could use some help as you listen. Then, find out ways that you can solve these problems with your expertise or your company’s business details.
3. Take some initiative: No one ever started their own business or promoted company growth by being a wallflower. If you arrive early and there are only a handful of people there, take some initiative and start the conversation. It can be as simple as, “What brings you to this event?” or just introducing yourself. After you’ve started the conversation, try to find common ground with the person you are talking to, such as a business organization, causes, favorite sports teams … whatever carries the conversation will work.
4. Social media can make a big difference: It goes without saying that you will need to bring business cards to a networking event, but there are other forms of media that can definitely help you promote your company, such as social networking. LinkedIn is a go-to professional network, but don’t hesitate to send Facebook and Twitter invites to potential clients or business associates. Getting a “like” on your company’s page or another Twitter follower might not seem like much, but in the long run, your social media posts could encourage them to use your product or contact you about a business solution.
5. Make networking a priority: Find the time in your schedule to attend networking events. Fast Company suggests going to an industry conference at least once a year. Look up stakeholders at the conferences on social media before you go so you’re familiar with industry leaders and topics. Dedicate a few hours each month to social networking as well – this can be as simple as sharing a relevant article with your followers. All it takes is a few clicks, and you can gain a lot more exposure. Better yet, consider writing your own blog, publishing it on your website and then sharing it. This can help you develop a role as an industry leader and increase networking opportunities down the road.
Though networking takes a bit of effort on your part, it has the potential to boost your business in a very meaningful way. Try out these tips and see how starting conversations can eventually lead to more revenue and connections.