For younger CEOs, especially those who are mainly working by themselves, networking can be vital to gaining new clients and colleagues. Not only that, networking can provide you with invaluable tips and advice. If you’ve gone to any events in the past, though, you know networking can sometimes be a huge pain.
We’ve all been to those events where you just stand in the corner and wish you could break into any of the little cliques around you. You leave early thinking you’ve basically wasted your evening and have nothing to show for it. With a little planning, though, you can turn any networking event into a great way to expand your business.
Before the Trip
This is where a lot of business owners go wrong. They see the networking event pop up in their email and they sign up…and then completely forget about it until a few days, or even hours, before the event. They assume that they’ll meet a few people at the event when they show up, and everything will work out. This usually ends with the CEO walking in circles, occasionally buying a drink, and handing out a ton of business cards that will languish in a desk drawer somewhere.
With a little forethought, this business owner could have had much more success. For example, those business cards wouldn’t have gone to waste if they were given to the right people. They could’ve resulted in some solid follow-ups and leads on sales.
But how do you pick the right people? It just takes a little research. Find the event online and see if there is a guest list. You can then look up interesting people that you might want to talk to in advance. You can use Facebook and LinkedIn to see if you have any mutual interests or friends. This could help you break the ice when you try to start a conversation in person. If you feel it’s appropriate, shoot them an email and let them know you’ll be attending and are looking forward to talking with them. Chances are they’re suffering from a case of pre-networking-event nerves too and will be happy to have a sure conversation buddy at the event.
During the Event
Arrive early. This gives you a chance to talk to more people, and it also allows you to avoid the problem of walking into a crowded room and trying to break into a conversation.
Identify the people you really want to talk to and remember to think about their strengths and interests. You also should have an idea who can realistically help you and your business.
It’s great to set tangible goals for the event so you stick to a plan. Try to have 5 engaging conversations with 5 different people. If you set this as a goal, odds are you’re likely to get some connection or benefit out of the event. This will also allow you to manage your time more effectively. You shouldn’t spend the entire evening talking to just one person. You also shouldn’t spend all your time talking to anybody and everybody.
Also, don’t be that person who runs up and throws business cards to people. Really engage your potential new clients and colleagues in conversation. Everybody is there for business, sure, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, too.
The post networking period is where all your planning comes to fruition. This should be the easiest part of the whole process if you’ve already done everything else correctly.
Since you’ve already had great conversations in person with your new colleagues, you can re-connect over email to either build your relationship or discuss actionable business ideas. Remind them who you are (everyone talked to lots of people that night) and bring up a subject you discussed. It’s helpful to be as specific as possible to show how much you enjoyed your conversation.
It’s best to also offer ways you can help your new connection. Networking is a two way street so you should always think about ways to help build your relationship rather than sucking the most value out of your connections. It’s a fine balance between being direct about what you want and building a relationship. Often times, providing sincere help or asking for help is the best way to build a relationship.
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