As an entrepreneur, successful networking is critical to your personal growth and business development. Having a strong professional network will give you access to the best knowledge, resources, support, new ideas, and new perspectives. Networking can also uncover new business opportunities and connect you with new clients and new talent. However, many people associate it with awkward moments, cheesy events, and overcoming social anxiety. Even hearing the word networking can illicit a negative response. But it doesn’t have to be scary or complicated! When you boil it down, networking is just building long-term relationships and a good reputation over time. It takes practice to strengthen your networking muscle, and it gets easier and more comfortable with experience. You might even start looking forward to networking events! Due to the pandemic, many networking opportunities continue to be available virtually. But there is something to be said about a real hand-shake and a face-to face conversation. As the pandemic comes to a close, we need to be ready to meet and mingle in person again! Follow this networking guide for entrepreneurs to brush up on your networking game!
Identify your professional objective
Networking is a time commitment, so be intentional with your approach. Identify what you are hoping to achieve, so you can choose the right networking opportunities to reach your goals. You could be looking for knowledge, resources, or a mentor. Or perhaps you are hoping to connect with new clients, or find partnership opportunities. With your objective in mind, remember to think about what you have to offer in return. How can you bring value to these contacts?
Find a group that fits your objective
With your professional objective in mind, try to find the right networking groups that will bring you closer to your goal. Consider joining your local chamber of commerce or a related membership association. Plan to participate in many different networking events before you find your circle of support. Eventually you will find a group that fits your needs. And you will have boosted your personal brand awareness along the way!
Prepare for your networking event
Before attending a networking event, do your research so that you know what to expect. This will help calm your nerves and determine what you should wear and what you need to bring. Be sure to have plenty of business cards and/or pamphlets printed off and ready to go. Another thing you should think about before attending a networking event is your elevator pitch. Practice introducing yourself and your business in just 20-30 seconds. Be authentic and confident as you outline your unique value proposition.
During the networking event
- Set a goal: Set yourself a goal of how many people you are going to connect with during the event. This will help keep you focused when you are out of your comfort zone and keeping you moving through the event.
- Be attentive and ask questions: It is so important to remember the name of who you are speaking with and use it when you address them. Show that you are interested by asking questions about their challenges, their professional journey, or even ask for some advice. Be attentive when they are answering your questions and draw parallels with your own experience. It’s a good idea to jot down a couple notes after the conversation so you can write a personalized follow-up message.
- Gracefully Transition: No matter how much you are enjoying the conversation, eventually you both are going to want to move along. To avoid awkward moments, have a few transition phrases ready in advance to help you move away from the conversation. One example would be “It was a pleasure speaking with you. Will you be at the next event?” This will help you move along gracefully and with confidence to the next conversation.
Getting the business card is not the end of the game. Send a quick email or a LinkedIn request to your new contacts within a few days of speaking with them. Be sure to personalize the message and reference the conversation you had. Networking is all about building and nurturing relationships, so remember to stay connected. Touch base every quarter to send them relevant information or check in with them. It’s a good idea to keep your networking contacts organized in a spreadsheet so you can remember to follow up regularly.
Networking is an important part of your role as a business owner. Investing in your professional relationships can pay back in dividends over your career and the life of your business. Follow these steps to make your networking efforts efficient and effective!