As a small business owner, you have lots of opportunities for networking. Some are more useful than others, and some are, frankly, a waste of time. How do you know the difference? And what can you do to make the most of the events you attend? Here are some rules for the effective use of your networking time budget:
RULE# 1: Pick and choose your event
When you consider the expense of driving to an event, taking time away from other income-generating activities, and buying a ticket or drinks, it is obvious that networking requires a certain investment. Once you've prepared your elevator speeches, filled your pockets with business cards, and changed your clothes sufficiently often to be satisfied with your appearance, it can be a let-down to find out that no one in a venue is really a very promising client or business partner. For example, if you make jewelry, a room full of elderly financial experts and real estate agents is probably not an ideal networking scenario for you, although one or two of them may tell you how "interesting" your earrings are.
RULE #2: Work the room with a purpose
It is always nice to find familiar faces at business events, but avoid the temptation to chat at length with people you already know. Make it a point to move around the room and to join other groups that are standing together. Although you can of course learn a lot from listening to others (The intricacies of IT patent filings! The finer points of public housing administration!), it helps to come to the event with a clear plan. What is your purpose for attending? Do you want more people to read your newsletter or are you looking for wholesale customers to buy your earrings? Who are the movers and shakers in the room, and how can you approach them?
RULE #3: Take the time to follow up (and follow through)
If you don't take the time to follow up after the event or to follow through on promises you made ("I'll get back to you on that!"), you are not using the networking investment you made to its full potential. Don't make the mistake of waiting several days or even weeks to follow up. By that time, you won't be able to recall the details of conversations or recognize names on business cards. While it is a nice first step, follow-up involves more than connecting with a new contact on social media. Instead, try to engage promising contacts with follow-up questions or arrange for a face-to-face meeting.
Strictly speaking, even "free" networking events require an investment of time and energy. Advance planning can help make your networking efforts more effective and generate valid leads.
Which other networking tips do you have?
I look forward to hear from you!
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