Like jam and cream go hand in hand, so too does networking with running a successful business. But many of us dread walking into a room and introducing ourselves to a bunch of strangers.
Here are some valuable tips that have worked for me over the years:
1. Get there early. Showing up early at a networking event is a much better strategy than getting there on the later side. It is quieter and people won’t have settled into groups yet, making it easier to find a conversation partner.
2. Ask opening questions. Don’t wait for someone to approach you. To start a conversation, simply walk up to a person or a group, and say, “May I join you” or “What brings you to this event?” Don’t forget to listen intently to their replies.
3. Ditch the sales pitch. Remember, networking is all about relationship building. Keep your exchange light and informal – you don’t need to do the hard sell within the first few minutes. The idea is to get the conversation started. People are more apt to do business with – or partner with – people whose company they enjoy.
If a potential customer does ask you about your product or service, be ready with an easy description of your company – practice this often!
4. Share your passion. Win people over with your enthusiasm for your product or service. Leave a lasting impression by telling a story about why you were inspired to create your company. When you are passionate about what you do, it is contagious and when you get other people to share their passion, it creates a memorable two-way conversation.
5. Smile. It’s a simple, but often overlooked, rule of engagement. By smiling, you’ll put your nervous self at ease and come across as friendly and inviting to others. Remember to smile before you enter the room, or before you start your next conversation.
6. Don’t hijack the conversation. Some people who dislike networking may overcompensate by dominating the discussion. Don’t forget: The most successful networkers are good at making other people feel special. Make eye contact, repeat their name, listen to what they have to say, and suggest topics that are easy to discuss. Be a conversationalist, not a talker.
7. Remember to follow up. It’s often said that networking is where the conversation begins, not ends. If you’ve made good connections, ask the best way to stay in touch. Some people like email or phone; others prefer social networks like LinkedIn. Get in touch within 48 hours of the event to show you’re interested and available and mention something you discussed, so your contact remembers you.
Keep on Networking!