For many years, my answer to this question was yes, absolutely! I could go to a networking event and come home with 20 business cards, and give out just as many. It was a good feeling to come home from meeting some cool people and for me that was a smashing success.
As I look back at those times now, I shake my head, because I realize now how much time I wasted in socializing and collecting business cards, and not building beneficial and long lasting relationships. I started to avoid networking events, because I felt that it was a waste of my time. However, what I have come to realize is that the Networking Event wasn’t the problem, it was my preparation and purpose for attending the event that was the problem.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, networking is defined as the act of making contact and exchanging information with other people, groups and institutions to develop mutually beneficial relationships.
The operative words are “to develop mutually beneficial relationships”.
If you are like me, it is nice to go and socialize and meet great people, but these days your time is very valuable, especially if you are running a business. Your time and money is valuable and it has to be used wisely. So it is so important that for every event that you attend for networking, you must have a game plan so that your time is used wisely and so that you leave with some valuable information, and some beneficial connections that will increase your chances for business success in the future. It is also important that you spend quality time sharing your expertise, business services to expose your brand to people you connect with.
Nowadays, my networking experiences are not only enjoyable, but I am building solid beneficial relationships that are helping me in life and in business.
If you would like to make your networking experience to be more enjoyable and worthwhile, here are some of the steps that I take to plan and prepare for events where I intend do networking.
Set Goals for What You Want To Accomplish
Remember that your business operates on a two way street, so you are looking to connect with people who are a match for the services that you provide, and on the other side of the street you are looking for people that have the services that you would like to tap into. You should set goals based on the following.
- Determine how many people I want to connect with. This is important because you want to have a time limit for how long you want to be at a networking event. Some events are so long that you get tired of hearing yourself talk. Regardless of the actual length of the event, my goal is to spend no more than 2 hours at one event. Also, my goal is to have 4 quality conversations for each event. I rather have 4 quality conversations as opposed to trying to run around and connect with everyone that I see. Sometimes it may take me meeting with 6 or 7 people in order to find those four key conversations. I am looking for opportunities to establish those beneficial connections.
- Determine what your current needs are for your business and plan and make you purpose to seek out people who are experts in that area. Some networking events will have a list of attendees and their area of expertise, but most events will not have a list at all.
- Determine what aspect of your business or service you want to promote and share that during the event. Build your elevator speech around that aspect of your business so that you can stay focused and consistent in your conversation. Sometime we try to educate others on our entire inventory of products and services and that can be overwhelming to remember and comprehend during a networking event.
Attend Network Events Alone
This is a big deal for some people. Many new business owners shy away from networking events if they are not familiar with the organization or the people that are sponsoring the event. It can be a frightening experience for some people to walk into a room full of strangers and try to promote and explain your services, especially if you are new in business and still working to get your business on solid ground. Most people who have this fear will compensate by taking a friend or colleague with them to the event. In most cases this is not a good decision when attending a networking event. In many cases when you take someone, you end up spending more time talking to them instead of getting out and networking with others at the event.
I attended a networking event three weeks ago, and when I was entering into the event I was following two ladies that were arriving together and they were very energetic and excited about the event. We spoke briefly before entering the event. They were both in marketing and starting their own business. Marketing was one of the areas where I wanted to find experts, so my intentions were to catch up with one of them during the event. During the event I ran into them several times and each time they were always together and talking to each other. Let’s just say, two hours later I completed all of my task and left the event, never getting the opportunity to connect and have that quality conversation with either of them.
It was the perfect example why you want to attend events alone if it is your plan to network. If you just want to go and socialize, than cool, take someone with you. Also if you and your business partner want to attend the event, make it a point to separate during the event to accomplish your goals and the two of you can share notes and feedback on your ride back home. Do your socializing amongst each other on the way there, and on the way back home. But during the event, it is time to get down to business.
Prepare your Questions and Prepare for Questions
It is important to design a set of questions that are general and specific. Yes I know that is a contrast in approach, but what I mean is that you want your questions to be general enough so that you can connect with anyone that you come in contact with, regardless of their back ground. However, you want to have specific questions for those experts that you come in contact with that meet the goals that you have set for the event. Remember, you want to get to your quality connections as soon as possible, so use your questions as a filter.
Below are a couple of great articles that can provide you additional information on how to expand and improve on your networking experience.
3 Ways to Get More Business at Networking Events - http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/207638
Why Attending Networking Events Can Make You Millions - http://katiefreiling.com/events/