Networking: Get Those Crucial Contacts
Make the most of the business meet-and-greet
In the industry of Awards and PR a good contact is invaluable. Networking events are perfect for meeting and connecting with the right people.
Effective networking is a valuable business tool and I aim to attend at least four events a month. You can't put a price on a strong database of contacts, or the positive impact of face-to-face interaction. Here I've gathered my top ten suggestions for how to make the most from your next event:
Don't just pitch - give. Networking events are about building contacts, and a direct sales spiel can be off-putting. What can you do for a potential customer? Show them what you've helped past clients achieve, and what you could do for them in the future.
Be involved. No-one likes the artist at the open mic night that turns up, does their set and leaves. If you're a scheduled speaker stay around to listen to some of the other guests' speeches. Attend networking events regularly and become a familiar face in the room. Networking is like a community - the more you give into it, the more you get out.
People give to people. Build relationships. If your business relies on your client making an emotional investment and requires a level of trust between the two of you, then this is something that will need to be initiated before you make a sale. A long-growing relationship can mean a client for life, so build rapport and make sure you're a genuinely nice person to work with.
Don't go intending to sell. Networking events are not a trade fair. Set out three clear goals that don't involve a direct sale. At a previous networking day I had one strong objective in mind: to be noticed by an important contact I had been eyeing for while. I initiated conversation, passed on a business card and kept in touch. Six months down the line, the contact referred me to a company that is now one of my biggest clients. But if I had gone to that networking event looking only for a direct sale, the day would have been reflected on as a failure.
Do your homework. Research the other people attending - who is a potential client? Who would make a good industry contact? Will any competitors in your field be at the event? You should have a list of people in mind that you want to reach out to. Prepare questions and gather enough information to engage any of your targets. LinkedIn and Twitter are great places to start - Twitter especially can give you a personal feel for the interests of a contact.
Relax. The idea of a networking event can be overwhelming, but you are in exactly the same boat as everyone else in the room. There's no pressure on the day, just be yourself and meet likeminded people with the same business interests as yourself.
The opportunity to talk about your business could come at any moment - blink and you'll miss it. Get familiar with the term 'elevator pitch,' and have a 10 sec, 40 sec and 60 sec variation ready, depending on your scenario. Be ruthless with the information you pitch - you only have one chance to grab a contact's interest so captivate, not waffle at them.
Listen carefully. Networking is a give-and-take experience; you can't expect someone to be eager about your business if you don't show them the same courtesy. Be interested first - then interesting.
There's no such thing as too much stationary. A pen is mightier than the sword when it comes to business, so make sure you take several, along with notepaper and a stock of business cards. You'd be surprised at how often there's an opportunity to hand them out, and it saves having to write your number or email down repeatedly.
You've done the work, reached out and made a contact - now you need to maintain that connection. Prepare an email to send to the people you meet before you even leave the office - and send as soon as you get back.