Entrepreneurs boldly launch commercial enterprises that risk careers and fortunes. But being a bold risk taker does not always translate into being a social butterfly, and the thought of networking events can send some into a cold sweat. So, for those looking to make the most of these events as a way to engage business prospects, here are eight keys to help you get started:
Where to go?
Just showing up is smart but the question begged is just where should you show up? The goal is to be at a networking function that has a room full of potential clients. All industries have associations that sponsor networking events that are ideal for a newcomer to easily meet with like-minded individuals.
Invest in yourself
Prepare like a showbiz professional. Practise your elevator pitch as you would a script for a play, find a fair judge and allow for the unexpected by having alternate lines in case you need to improvise your pitch on the run. Then practise – each practice adds to your confidence in the delivery.
Get a card that counts
How easy will it be for anyone to remember you and your products when you give them your business card? Most company names suggest what services you offer. Some don’t. Consider assisting your new-found sales prospect by adding your photo to your card. That will put a face to a name. The back of most cards are blank, so consider putting your service offerings on there to further showcase your value.
Show up early
It’s daunting walking into a near-empty room but opportunity awaits. Inevitably the organisers will be early. Use the opportunity to introduce yourself and ask what profile of business people are likely to be at today’s event. They will love to tell you the full story. With any luck an organiser will introduce you to the next person to arrive. One intro already accomplished.
Approach arrivals confidently and introduce yourself as a fellow early bird. You have every reason to be confident because everyone is there for the same purpose – to network and get leads. If you don’t feel confident, fake that welcoming smile and keep talking. Ask them what business they’re in. Don’t feel inhibited about being blunt. They may even be relieved that you have the smarts to not waste their time. Offer to swap cards and check out if they have any potential business for you.
Time is money
This event is an investment in your time. The cost is already expended, now you have the opportunity to turn cost into a profitable networking event. Ask yourself, “would I pay to talk to this person?” If not, you owe it to yourself to move on. Politely excuse yourself and move on to someone else.
Once more with feeling
After a while you may feel that an event is a time-waster. Take heart. Remember that you have spent your time and money being there so give it a few more goes with anyone left in the room. When you least expect someone to be interested that last one in the room may be the one you were looking for. There is never a bad time to present your pitch. Even if no-one in interested you have gained from the practise. Should your presentation fall flat that is one more step to success as you know where you got it wrong. There is nothing like audience feedback to help improve a performance.
Follow up fast
Success and failure is often the difference between the quick and the dead. You have their business cards now you must hit that keyboard and thank them for their time and interest and assess their potential as a lead.
Entrepreneurs who get out and network are well connected. The journey may take a while but after a lot of networking you will find that you are as well informed as most and maybe a little more than many. The challenge of starting a journey is not new. The quote from Loa Tzu in 500 BC summed it up nicely “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”. So, be bold and take the first step!