I was recently at an event with a bunch of my former colleagues from the large corporation I used to work for. I was there, representing my own company, and although it was great to see them and catch up, I was a bit shocked to notice and furthermore realize – they were all sticking together, not really venturing out in to the crowd to explore and meet new people.
Of course it feels safe and comfortable to stay connected with the people you came with, instead of going out in to the crowd – alone. But, for a small business owner, sticking around with the people you already know, when you’re at an event full of prospecting opportunities, is a big no no!
You have to be curious, you have to be prepared, and you have to work the crowd! Here’s a few more tips for maximizing your success at networking events.
1. Show up early
When you arrive early you often have a great opportunity to connect with the host(s), group or organization who is putting on the event. Knowing these people is a great asset for a variety of reasons. It gives you (at minimum) one person with whom you can connect with, and stay in contact with following the event. Also the old saying ‘birds of a feather flock together’ can come in handy, especially if you’re trying to establish a few networking groups to get involved in. Typically the organizations in your city putting on business networking events know of the other organizations doing the same and often attend one another’s events. Knowing your host can serve you well. Next stop, the bar. Even if you don’t drink (and I don’t recommend having more than 2 drinks at any professional function) it’s always great to know the bartender. Since you’re early, you’ll probably have a chance to strum up a bit of a conversation, until the room starts to fill. You’ll feel more comfortable and more at ease, instead of entering a busy room full of conversations and trying to make your way in to one. By arriving early, you’ll ease in to conversations at a nice pace.
2. Be a card collector, not a card pusher
I’ve had many conversations with my colleagues and clients who seem to think that giving out a lot of business cards is a sign of success when networking. Now I’m not suggesting to hoard your cards, but, instead, be tactful when networking. Be authentic and be curious. Not everyone needs your card, and you don’t need everyone’s either. That said, it’s far more important to leave a networking event, having collected cards of people you’d like to know more about, connect with further, or continue the conversation with, instead of handing your card out to people who may or may not call you again. (I remember being at a conference a few years ago where there were over 3000 people in attendance. To my horror and dismay, in the line for breakfast one morning, there was a gal walking down the aisle, tearing off her perforated business cars, that she must have printed out that morning, and handing them out to everyone in line. I’m pretty sure 99% of the people in line did exactly what I did with her card – trashola!) Networking events are a venue for you to connect with other professionals and EXPLORE whether or not there is value in reconnecting at a later date and time. Passing out your card at random is disrespectful of people and their time, to say the least.
3. Be prepared
Being prepared, as a small business owner, means being able to answer the question: “what do you do?”. And it’s not good enough to say “I’m the owner of 2020 Communications Inc.”, because people don’t know what that means. You have to be prepared to tell people what you actually DO: “I own a training company that works with restaurant owners and managers to train their service staff on how to sell more product at table-side.” See the difference? Don’t feel bad if you’ve been missing this step as many small business owners do. Instead, make this small correction and be prepared forever more for networking success.