Entrepreneurs are by nature interesting people, boldly launching commercial enterprises that risk careers and fortunes. But being a bold risk taker does not always translate into being a social butterfly, and the thought of networking events can send some into a cold sweat.
So, for those looking to make the most of these events as a way to engage business prospects, here are eight key things to help you get started:
1. Where to go?
Just showing up is smart but the question begged is just where should you show up? All entrepreneurs can tell you what market that they are targeting but the goal is to be at a networking function that has a room full of potential clients.
Don’t waste your time and effort. Before you show up, ensure you research about upcoming networking conferences and ask the organizers of the expected attendees.
Fortunately. industries have associations that sponsor networking events that are ideal for a newcomer to easily meet with like-minded individuals. Most of these associations also have websites or social media sites so you get at least an idea of what they do.
2. Invest in yourself
Prepare for the networking event like a showbiz professional. Practise your elevator pitch as you would a script for a play. Find someone who will be a fair judge.
Allow for the unexpected by having alternate lines just in case you need to improvise your elevator pitch on the run. Then practise these. Try to make mock conversations as an exercise to build your confidence in replying to questions that may arise. You should also be prepared to keep a conversation going if a client shows interest or disinterest in your pitch.
Practice does make perfect. Sounds corny but each practice adds to your confidence in the delivery.
3. Get a card that counts
How easy will it be for anyone to remember you and your products when you give them your business card? They have your name and mostly the company name will suggest what services you offer. Some don’t. So, if you want to make the most out of a networking event, you should have your business card ready.
Consider assisting your new-found sales prospect by adding your photo to your business card. That will put a face to a name, as they say.
The back of most business cards are blank, so consider putting your service offerings on there to further showcase your value. When you hand over the card to your new prospect you can politely reference the card in your elevator pitch.
4. Show up early
Besides the attendees of the event, the people behind it can also become your prospective clients or partners.Arrive at the event a little early. Always a bit daunting walking into a near empty room but opportunity can be waiting. Inevitably the organisers will be early. Use the opportunity to introduce yourself and ask what profile of business people are likely to be at today’s event.
They will love to tell you the full story. With any luck an organiser will introduce you to the next person to arrive. One intro already accomplished.
If you need to learn more about the vendors present in the venue, you can talk to one of their representatives or look them up using platforms like The Vendry. This way, you’ll learn more about their services and the type of business they run.
5. Show time
As folks arrive approach them confidently and introduce yourself as a fellow early bird. You have every reason to be confident about being at this networking event because everyone is there for the same purpose – to network and get business leads.
If you don’t feel confident fake that welcoming smile and keep talking. Ask them what business they’re in. Don’t feel inhibited about being blunt. They may even be relieved that you have the smarts to not waste their time. Offer to swap cards and check out if they have any potential business for you.
6. Time is money
This event is an investment in your time. The cost is already expended (known as sunk costs to accountants). Now you have the opportunity to turn that sunk cost into a profitable networking event.
Ask yourself, would I pay to talk to this person? If not, you owe it to yourself to move on. Politely excuse yourself and move on to another group or individual.
Remember that it’s not always about the number of people you talk to, but rather the quality of professionals you meet and conversations that you make.
Your pitch won’t bear fruit if you’re saying it to someone who doesn’t need your services. So, when you’re at a networking function, assess at the early stages of the conversation if you can turn the person you’re talking to into a client.
7. Once more with feeling
After a while you may feel that an event is a time waster. Take heart. Remember that you have spent your time and money being there so give it a few more goes with anyone left in the room. When you least expect someone to be interested that last one in the room may be the one you were looking for.
There is never a bad time to present your pitch. Even if no-one in interested you have gained from the practice. Should your presentation fall flat that is one more step to success as you know where you got it wrong. There is nothing like audience feedback to help improve a performance.
8. Follow up fast
Success and failure is often the difference between the quick and the dead. You have their business cards now you must hit that keyboard and thank them for their time and interest and assess their value as a potential lead. If they show interest in your pitch, try to set up a meeting so that you can build your relationship with them and hopefully close a deal.
Entrepreneurs who get out and network are well connected. The journey may take a while but after a lot of networking you will find that you are as well informed as most and maybe a little more than many.
The challenge of starting a new journey is not new. The quote from Lao Tzu in 500 BC summed it up nicely:
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
So, be bold and take the first step!