When you’re a new business owner, attending networking events doesn’t have to be intimidating. Networking is work, you get out of it what you put into it, and you have to be committed to it for the long term to reap the benefits. To some lucky entrepreneurs, getting into the mix comes naturally. To most, it feels like everyone knows each other except for you, but if you follow these steps you’ll be mingling with the best of them in no time.
Ignore your phone.
Nothing says “unapproachable” like a person whose full attention is focused on a phone. Silence it. Only take it out to exchange contact info, and then quickly put it away. If you simply have to check it, do it quickly and in a private space. (Those hot spots where people “hide” to check their devices are also great ice-breaking opportunities.)
You’re going to tell a lot of people your name, and everyone there is going to hear a lot of other people’s names, too. Including a “rhymes with” or “as in” with your introduction will help people remember you.
If you feel like a loner, approach a loner. Now, neither of you is alone.
This is a good way to warm up. There’s always going to be someone who feels as awkward as you do. Bond with that person first to get comfortable and stretch your conversation muscles, but…
Don’t spend all your time with one person.
It’s a networking event. Yes, the person you’re talking to should get your full attention, but everyone is there to meet multiple people, so either enlist the person you’re with to circulate with you, or plan some polite ways to move on.
Have a couple of “targets” lined up.
At networking events, stalking is acceptable–if you’re subtle. Research other attendees and seek out the ones you really want to meet. Work out some introductory phrases ahead of time so you don’t, well, sound like a stalker. (“You’re Sam from The Market, right? I really admire your business.”)
People like talking about themselves. If you prompt them to do so, they also like you and will ask you some questions in return. Mingle: accomplished.
Don’t pitch anything.
These events are about making memorable connections. You want the people you meet to remember you and your business, and if the connection you make is positive, the relationship will develop naturally, especially if you…
Attend a lot of events.
If you’re a regular presence at local business events, you’ll become recognizable and people will begin to approach YOU. Plus, practice makes perfect.
Bring memorable take-aways. (A pen is not memorable.)
Of course you should have business cards, but there should be something else you offer, preferably related to your business, that helps bring your brand to mind when the event is over. $5 gift cards to your store? Tote bags? Water bottles? Have them in a bag and give them to the people with whom you really make a connection.
Sponsor the event in some way.
This is a great way to get your business recognized. It does half the work of introducing yourself and makes you and your business look good.
What’s your best networking trick?