Social media has given us the ability to network on-line and nowadays it seems so easy to overlook the importance of face to face networking. The fact is that ‘real’ networking is a great way to get your business name out there, gain advice from other business women and men and ultimately gain new clients. Via social media, you can often be forgotten just as easily as you were found; networking face to face can leave a lasting impression.
However, it is difficult and can be very awkward; as I recently experienced, so I thought I would share some great tips for this really important, yet often overlooked, marketing tool.
I recently attended a networking event (my very first may I add) bushy tailed and excited. It was a relatively subtle networking event, in other words it wasn’t entitled ‘Networking Event’, it was a well known make-up brand’s event hosted in the city where I’m based offering free champagne and food (How could I resist?).
First things first, I made sure I had some business cards ready. Business cards offer a fantastic opportunity to swap contact details quickly and professionally. A Business card will be the first thing they see from your company so make sure you are happy with how yours looks and that it reflects your company. Ultimately, you want them to keep the business card and perhaps let it entice them to look you up on-line and have a perusal of your website and so on.
Secondly I made sure I dressed up appropriately, I was attending an early evening event so made sure to dress smart casual. It’s always better to be overdressed than under-dressed so if you’re unsure about the dress code make sure you opt for the smart trousers or dress and smart jacket rather than jeans and t-shirt.
When I arrived at the networking event, I expected it to be relatively busy and bustling with plenty of people to strike up a conversation with about the event, how nice their scarf is or my favourite topic; the free food. Unfortunately it was hosted in a small room with at most 5 people in (who all seemed to know each other as well). This brings me to another important point; if it’s your first time at a networking event, try and bring a friend or colleague to soften the nerves and make you feel more confident.
After walking up and down the room and pretending to look at perfumes and moisturisers that I had no intention of buying (and debating whether I should just leave despite the fact I had only been there 20 mins), I decided to push my awkward feelings aside and put into practice some great tips my employer had given me prior to the event; Smile a lot, make eye contact and have positive body language (No one’s going to strike up a conversation with someone who’s standing in the corner with their arms crossed looking worried).
I stood by the table of food with a glass of champagne in my hand and tried to smile and look confident and make eye contact with people. Soon enough I made eye contact with the group of 5 women who knew each other, and shortly after one of them asked me a question about whether what I was eating was nice or not and just like that I was invited into their conversation.
It’s important that before you attend an event like this that you prepare a stock 30 seconds phrase to introduce what you do as you will surely be asked in the first minute of talking to someone. After that all you need to do is make sure that you ask them lots of questions about who they are and what they do; people love talking about themselves (I know I do). If you can, ask for their card and in return give them yours; hopefully next time they require services that you offer they will think of you and pull out your card from their wallet or card holder and get in contact.
What helped me stay at the event instead of leaving was a target that I made for myself before going; speak to at least five people and obtain one card and give another card out. Once I achieved this I could go. This is a brilliant idea to help motivate you to engage and converse with people at your first event which is always going to be slightly awkward and uncomfortable; whether you’re at a great event with loads of people or a very small event with a group of five women who all know each other and you on your lonesome.
After the event you can put all your new contacts into a CRM (if you have one), note what your conversations were like with them and even add them to your newsletter (again, if you have one).
Networking is a really fantastic way to get more clients and expand your clientèle base. It can be awkward and uncomfortable but with these tips you’re bound to successfully network and in time will gain new clients.
Get business cards, Dress Smart, Smile, Positive body language, bring a friend/colleague prepare a 30 second introduction, ask lots of questions and have a target to reach..