If you are running your own small business and have decided that this year you are going to be more proactive with your networking, then ‘Congratulations!’ and ‘Well Done!’. This can only be a good thing for your business. We know that people tend to buy from people they know, like and trust. What better way to become known, liked and trusted than attending some organised business networking events?
If, however, you have started to attend some events but haven’t given any thought beforehand to what you want to achieve from the event, how you are going to prepare and what your plan for the event is, then you are probably making a poor investment of your time and money. You are leaving far too much to chance and because you haven’t prepared you are likely to be missing opportunities that you could otherwise be gaining from the networking event.
Not sure how to get ready for networking? Then read on.
1. Go to the networking event with some goals in mind.
Now these goals are really important. They are a very simple way of ensuring that you pre-programme your brain so that it knows what you want to achieve. If you have clarified your goals beforehand then you will find it a lot easier to achieve them because consciously and sub-consciously you will be working towards getting the outcomes you hope for.
Let’s flip this round. Let’s say you haven’t clarified your goals and you attend a networking event happy to just go with the flow and to see what happens. This could be absolutely fine! You might meet some interesting people, you might make a new potential client. You might meet potential associates or suppliers. Or you might just waste the whole time talking to people who can’t help you progress your business.
It all depends on what you want to achieve from attending the networking event. If the answer is ‘nothing’, then prepare nothing. If you are wanting something tangible to happen, then turn it into a goal and attend the event with that goal in mind.
2. Keep the goals manageable and achievable (eg I want to give away 5 business cards, meet 5 new people, follow up with 3 of them afterwards).
So have I convinced you that it’s a good idea to set yourself some goals? Good. It is really important though not to set your goals too high, as you will only leave the event feeling disappointed and disillusioned when you fail to achieve them. Remember, you have to be in networking for the long haul. You are unlikely to find handfuls of new customers the first time you attend an event, but you might meet people who will eventually become your customers after they have met you a few times and grown to know, like and trust you.
Think about what you can realistically achieve at each networking event you attend. Could you set yourself goals around meeting say, 5 new people, giving out say, 6 business cards or brochures, perhaps arranging 2 follow up meetings? Notice that none of these goals mention the words ‘ customers’ or ‘clients’.
3. Attend a networking event at least every month to keep you practiced.
It is easy to slip out of the habit of networking. Or to look at your diary and feel that you are too busy to give up the time to attend an event. Remember that one of the reasons people buy from you is that they know, like and trust you. This relationship has to be built up over time, so attending networking events reasonably regularly helps you stay connected and keeps your networking skills practiced.
I suggest you book to attend at least one event per month. That will give you the opportunity to experience a range of events and to decide if you want to attend any more regularly or if you want to join that group as a member.
4. Attend events at different times of the day and in different locations (eg. breakfast events, lunch, evening sessions) – you will meet more people.
You might find that some people attend networking events at the same time of day, because it suits them. They might be early risers and love those 6.30 am breakfast events (yawn!). Or morning/lunchtime meetings might fit their schedule better, particularly if they have young children to drop at school, or older relatives to care for. The thing is, if you fall into the routine of networking at the same time of day, then even if you alternate between different events, you are likely to meet the same people.
If you want to meet different people, then look out for networking events that take place at different times of day and in different locations.
5. Practice describing concisely what your business is – some people call this an Elevator Pitch.
Finally – as part of your preparation you will need to refine your Elevator Pitch. I always hate it when I hear people reeling off what seems to be a well practiced catchphrase. Somehow it doesn’t sound authentic and real…trying to be too clever can end up just being annoying! The art is, I believe, to find a concise phrase that describes concisely what your business does, for example,
‘We cure back pain using gentle manipulation of muscle and soft tissue. The techniques we use have quick results and many of our clients are pain-free after only a few sessions’.
This doesn’t sound like a slick sales pitch, but it does very effectively describe exactly what the business is all about.
Practice some different phrases that sum your business up concisely and showcase the benefits you bring to customers. Your ‘pitch’ doesn’t have to be the same every time – its often better if it isn’t. But your message does need to be consistent to be memorable!