Becoming more efficient at business networking
Most of us go to networking events with an end goal in mind, which is to expand our network and look for referrals for our businesses. As my businesses grow, I’ve found unique challenges that commonly arise at networking events and here are some helpful tips so that you can learn to be more efficient and effective with networking and referrals.
1. Have a business card on you at all times.
You never know when a business opportunity may arise. There was a time where I was attending a conference called SIGGRAPH in San Diego, CA and I found myself sitting next to the President of a World Wide Organization on a Charter bus. Opportunities happen all the time, not just at networking conferences. Make sure you have a business card on you.
We aren’t at the digital age yet where exchanging contact info through our phones is common place, so make sure to bring some way to capture their contact information quickly as well as a way for you to give a potential contact your info or else you may never see that contact again.
2. Develop a plan of what you want to accomplish the day before an event.
Develop a short mission statement for yourself containing details about what you want to accomplish at your networking event. Also figure out why do you want to accomplish this and what you can do to accomplish this goal. Then write down three things you want to accomplish at your event that will make it a successful event for you.
When you go to an event, focus on completing one objective at a time starting out with the highest priority networking goal. For example, if you are looking for funding, when you arrive, you will need find out where Venture Captialists are networking and stay in that area until you’ve met all of them that you can. After that, you can move to your other objectives for the evening.
3. Research all aspects of the event you’re attending beforehand.
Research where the networking event is if you haven’t been there before. Knowing where the venue is can help you arrive on time and plan for traffic and parking ahead of time. Often times, there are public RSVP lists to these events where you can see who is attending and what their backgrounds are.
Make sure to seek out these lists if they are available and make a list of people you must talk to before attending the event. Researching the networking event’s history can also make you appear knowledgeable and it can even make you the ‘go to’ person or experienced networker in certain situations.
4. Bring your marketing and presentation materials with you.
Always bring at very least, a pen, a permanent marker, and something to write on. One thing that happens to me quite often when I’m networking is I will hand someone my glossy double-sided business card, I will say something meaningful to my new networking contact, and they are unable to write a note to themselves on my business card. If you bring extra pens and the right kind of pens, your new contact will be impressed by your thoughtfulness and will be able to write down valuable information immediately about you.
If you have a manufacturing based business, bring a prototype. If your prototype is too large, then keep an image with you on your smart phone. Remember to keep your phone charged and bring backup batteries if needed. Put videos of your product or service on your phone so you can show people what you do quickly. All of your presentation materials assist people to understand what you do and what you need from them quickly. Remember that not everyone learns primarily by hearing what you have to say, you have people that learn by visual or tactile queues or a combination. So it’s best to prepare a quick pitch about what you do, tell them about it, show them what it is, then leave them with something tactile behind so that you’re catering to all of their senses.
5. Dress for the people you want to attract.
Austin, for example, can be pretty laid back so sometimes it’s usual to wear a t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops when you’re at a business networking event. Just remember that if your goal is to network with and hang around people in suits all evening, you should be wearing similar clothing as those people you want to attract. Doing this will make them feel more comfortable around you.
6. Know how to speed network like a pro.
When networking, I usually come into a group of people, say hi, and let the group finish their discussion before I start leading the conversation to ‘So what do you do? Why are you here?’ After I’ve spoken with the person for some time to discover how I can help them or add value to their business, I ask them based on what they know about me so far, how they feel they could add value to my business. It’s a tricky art, because although it is reasonable to offer solutions to their problems, it cannot feel contrived – legitimately find ways to connect them with others or solve their pain points, and explore whether or not they have a value to offer in return (they may or may not).
If I figure out that there is no synergy, I will excuse myself from the conversation and leave the group. You should learn to politely excuse yourself from conversations quickly so that you can maximize the limited time you have to network.
I usually have a sorting system at any networking event that gives me an ability to quickly file contacts according to how relevant they are to my business. If I get a great and useful contact, I put my new networking contact’s business card in my front left pocket. If I have no immediately apparent use for a new contact’s business card, their card goes in my back pocket. When I get home, I have all my high priority contacts already sorted.
If you find someone that you have synergy with, get their contact info and schedule a future based physical meet up with them. Setting a date in the future to meet up shows to your new contact that they are important to you. In-person meetings usually have a higher sales closing rate and can create a greater sense of connection between yourself and your new contact than just connecting over LinkedIn or email after an event.
7. Follow up.
So by the end of the night, I usually come home with more business cards than I can count. From my experience, you have about 48 hours to reach out to these contacts you just met or else they may forget that they ever met you. So make sure to sort through all of your most important connections and leads for your business and contact those first. I recommend connecting with all of your new connections on LinkedIn.
If you don’t have the time to follow up with all of these people yourself, outsource it to your assistant, family members, intern, or anyone else you feel you trust with this task.
8. File your contacts properly.
A lot of people I know don’t keep an archive of all of their contacts. You never know the day that one of your previously less useful contacts may become exactly what you need in the future. I usually assign a keyword or phrase to all my “useless” contacts and put all of that data into one master spreadsheet (or you can do so in your CRM). That way in the future, I can search for resources if I ever need something in the future. Having this system ensures you will almost never have a crisis when you are looking for resources on demand.