Networking events are valuable for small businesses, but you need to plan ahead.
Business networking events aren’t just a way of getting your hands on some free food, although if you like canapes then you’re quids in. They’re actually one of the most effective ways of building links and connecting with other entrepreneurs and business owners who can help your own business grow. After all, in business it’s now what you know, it’s who you know. But if you’ve never attended a networking event, the thought of making small talk with a roomful of strangers can seem unnerving. Don’t be put off, though – our handy tips give you all the pointers you need to network like a pro.
1. Pick the right event
Networking events come in different forms. There are breakfast meetings, seminars, after work events and even speed networking for those who want to get straight to the point. There are also one-offs or networking events that take place regularly – the latter of which is more likely to help you build and sustain ongoing business connections.
2. Be prepared
If you’re nervous about networking, the best thing you can do is prepare ahead. You don’t have to go as far as drawing up a detailed schedule, but think about what you want to get out of it before you go. How many contacts do you want to make, and what kind? Investors, suppliers, customers? If you have a clear reason for going, you’ll know exactly how to approach it.
It’s also a good idea to give out business cards at networking events. You can’t rely on people to simply remember your company, so have a stack of cards at the ready to hand out to everyone you connect with at the event
3. Perfect your pitch
You want to meet as many other people as you can at a networking event, so when it comes to telling them about your business, time really is of the essence. Create a pitch that covers all the most important details about your business, including what your product or service is, who you’re targeting with it, and your unique selling point. Practice it until you feel confident retelling it, and remember to keep it brief. You don’t want to be known as the person who won’t stop talking.
4. Arrive early
Networking jitters aren’t unusual, so if you’re feeling a little apprehensive then arriving early gives you the chance to get comfortable and composed. Getting there in good time also means you can start conversations with other extra-punctual attendees without the pressure of having to wander around the room trying to find someone to chat to.
5. Go with a colleague
If you’d rather not go it alone, it’s fine to take a colleague along to a networking event – but make sure you don’t spend the whole time just talking to each other. You’re there to build business contacts, not chat with your co-worker, so split up and get to know some new contacts.
6. Follow up
Once you’ve made contacts, make sure that you follow up with them after the event. This can be something as brief as a quick email, or more in-depth like a meeting. However you choose to reach out, just be sure to actually do it – otherwise your hard work at the event will be very easily undone.