What comes to mind when you think about networking events? Probably that they are boring, always have the same old crowd, and you never see any new faces. Business networking groups often have bad reputations for being stuffy and full of cliques that make it hard for newbies to fit in. That can make anyone’s first experience terrifying. I mean, how do I walk up to someone I don’t know and start a conversation? Isn’t this just a huge time suck, where people just try to sell me something?
Okay, time to reel you back in from the deep end. Networking does not have to be as scary or sucky as you may have experienced in the past. In fact, I personally think it’s fun – and heck, sometimes there’s even free food and drinks, which everyone’s down for, right? But more importantly, networking events can be a great way to – wait for it – grow your network. I know that sounds obvious, but have you ever thought about who you are trying to make connections with? If it’s only prospective clients, you’re missing out on some pretty big opportunities.
If you are new at networking or feel like it hasn’t worked out for you before in the past, here are my top 5 connections you need to make at your next networking event.
Of course when you think of networking, you hope to get new business. Whether you’re a B2B or B2C business, you can gain clients from networking. Keep in mind, the best way to do this is the ability to provide a solution to a potential client’s problem. Listen more than you talk to find out if you can truly provide value to this person. Keep your response concise and to the point – no one has the attention span to listen to a 15-minute schpeel.
One of my favorite ways to find new employees is through networking events. The more you attend, the more qualified candidates you will find. Even if you don’t have an open position now, find someone you can connect with on LinkedIn and follow their career. If you meet someone that has a great skillset, he or she could help your business down the road. Better yet, find a professional mentor that you can call on for business advice. I bet you’ll be surprised at how willing someone is to be business mentor – you just have to ask.
Every business needs some kind of supplier or vendor, but sometimes a simple internet search is not the best way to find a quality partner. For example, maybe you have extremely slow internet speed with a monthly bill through the roof. Ask around at your next networking event. Most likely, you will find someone (or get referred to someone) who can help streamline your process, save you time, and money. Plus, you actually get to meet them and ask a bunch of questions to see if it’s a good fit. This type of relationship-building is way more natural and feels less sales-y (no one likes getting a cold call about switching your internet provider)!
Some people would tell you to steer clear of your competition. I disagree. In fact, they can offer valuable insights, connections, and opportunities for you. Ask if they know about any educational training or seminars coming up or if they can recommend a specific vendor you need. Sometimes you can even form a referral partnership. Maybe they really excel at A and you really excel at B – work together to send each other business!
5.Word of Mouth Warriors
Even if the connections you make don’t fall under 1, 2, 3, or 4 – everyone you meet knows others who may be clients, employees, vendors, or competition and are valuable in their own right, simply due to word of mouth! Never discount a new networking connection, as referrals are typically the most successful (and are the most cost-effective) for any business. As you know, it’s all about who you know, and who they know!
Whether it’s a large after hours open house, a weekly networking member-based group, or even something smaller and more personal, like Networking Roulette. Now get out there and start building those connections and growing your business!