Last week I attended a local group’s networking event.
You know the drill. You show up, there are tables, dinner, speaker and lots of people I didn’t know.
You may not know this about me – or believe it based on my writing style, but I am actually… very shy. So networking events aren’t exactly my marketing strategy of choice. But that doesn’t mean that I avoid them or ignore them. I actually enjoy getting out to networking events every so often to see what other business owners are doing and they are marketing their business.
It’s important to remember, however, the reason you are attending a networking event. If the reason is to meet prospects, capture leads, and learn from other attendees, make sure you are marketing yourself in the best possible way. Here are some helpful tips from small business owners who have seen the best – and worst – at networking events.
Listen to others. How many times have you attended an event and haven’t been able to get a word in edgewise? Dr. Bruce Hoag, work psychologist and business coach, notes that far too often, he sees people attempt to be patient and polite by asking him what he did first.
Yet really, those individuals were bursting at the seams to talk about their own business. You are doing yourself a marketing dis-service if you talk non-stop about you all night. Ask the prospect what her needs are (not yours). And pay attention and repeat back the information to demonstrate you understand what the person needs.
Don’t spend all night with people you already know. John Anderson, principal of The Glowan Consulting Group, notes that in many networking situations, people see others who they already know and want to reconnect with them.
This is not the way to market yourself, especially if you are attending the event to make new connections. John recommends that in this case, simply say to the other person that you will reconnect with them later in the evening and walk away.
Make eye contact with people, not technology. One of the worst things you can do at a mixer is show up and look at your smartphone all night. You are there to engage and meet people.
By engaging only with your phone, you’re essentially giving the message, “I don’t want to talk with you.” And that’s no way to market your business.
Dealing with the unprepared and secretive networker. Another networking type that you want to avoid being is the unprepared or shy attendee. These are the individuals that show up without business cards and cannot clearly describe his business or what products he sells.
Gail Wallance, president of Bellwind Consultants, said that more often than not, these same shy networkers complain they cannot find any clients.
Follow-up is key. There is such great opportunity for marketing yourself in the follow-up that happens after networking events. Take that stack of business cards you obtained and send a quick “nice to meet you” e-mail. Follow the people and businesses on Facebook or LinkedIn.
Similarly, if someone calls you as a result of networking, don’t ignore the communication. Respond to the email and return the phone call. You never know what potential partnerships will form, or whether the person can be a referral source.
If done right, networking can be very rewarding and an excellent way to market yourself and your business. Don’t make the mistakes described above. Listen to prospects and what their business needs are, and follow up appropriately. Always come compared. Being shy and unprepared is never good for marketing.