Networking events are of little value if you’re not prepared. Here are five things to keep you on task at any business networking event — as adapted from “The Ten Commandments of any Business Networking Mixer” in “The World’s Best Known Marketing Secret” by Ivan Misner.
Make your badge count. A large part of your first impression at any networking event will begin with the name badge you’re wearing. Does your business name convey what you do? If not, make sure to put two or three words under your business name that succinctly lets people know what you do.
Set your goals before you enter the building. Remember, a networking event is not about the number of business cards you collect, it’s about making quality connections. We often identify people we’d like to meet, but with whom we have no direct connection. Yet, we forget to ask those we meet at networking events if they know that person. Identify key individuals witch which you’d like to connect. At the event, ask people you come in contact with if they know the person you’re trying to meet. The meeting you’re seeking might not happen that same night, but you can’t get a meeting at all unless you’re willing to ask.
Actively listen and ask the five “w” questions. Conversations often stop suddenly and begin to feel awkward. Becoming the saviour of the conversation requires that you have some questions ready to ask that will generate interesting answers. Think beyond what they do and start to wonder about why they’re doing it or who their target market might be.
Friends and close business associates are easy to hang out with, but don’t spend more than 10 minutes with each person. The speed of success is directly proportional to how fast you exit your comfort zone. If you find there’s a valuable connection that can be made, end the conversation with an appointment for coffee or a time you’ll call their office to schedule a follow-up meeting. Remember, the conversation can continue at a different time and place and, as a matter of fact, it’s better if it does.
Keep track of details. When you move from one networking event to another, you often run into the same people, mixed with new connections. One effective way to keep track of all the details of quick, 10-minute conversations with new connections is to write notes on the back of their business cards. First, ask for permission, as some people might find offensive if you write on their cards. Second, make sure you have a pen that will write on cards even if they’re glossy, so a thin Sharpie is usually the best choice. Finally, find your own codes to understanding when you met, what your next step should be and a notation if this person will be a good customer, referral partner or vendor.
The next time you plan on attending a networking event, start before the event with some pre-planning and you’ll find you’re not only more comfortable overall, but you’ll come away with valuable connections. Probably the most important step is to translate the information you’ve gathered into a customer relationship management (CRM) software or some other database designed to help you with connection management.
Building your business with word-of-mouth marketing will only happen when you take the proper steps to build good foundations in the relationships that will bear the most fruit.
Sometimes identifying those relationships can be the hardest process of all. A good follow-up system will help you keep connected as you explore the potentials of a business relationship.