Networking is a necessary part of being an entrepreneur; however, for those not used to this strengthening and flexing their networking muscle, it can be daunting.
But…it doesn't have to be. Just as you would work out different muscles in your body to get stronger or more flexible, the more you engage and interact with networking opportunities, the stronger your networking skills will become.
In today's blog, we'll define networking and share our top five tips for effective networking.
What is Networking?
Networking is the exchange of information and ideas among people with a common profession or special interest, usually in an informal social setting - or put more simply, a conversation between two people getting to know each other and each other's interests
Professionals across all industries use networking to expand their circles of acquaintances, find out about job opportunities, and increase their knowledge and awareness of news and trends in their fields or in the greater world.
In-person and online networking events all have the same goal: to allow business owners to develop relationships with people and companies they may do business with in the future.
5 Tips for Effective Networking
1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Before you even enter the door of a networking event, ask yourself: Why am I attending this particular event and who do I want to meet and why? It can also help to list goals you have for the event such as obtaining three new contacts for your email list or introducing yourself to three people and learning what they do and how they got started.
Certain event registration platforms will share information and even the attendee lists on the registration page. Be sure to read over as much information as you can as you might discover potential clients, referral partners, mentors, or just interesting people you want to connect with.
By having specific goals in mind, you can prepare effectively and keep yourself focused during the event.
No matter the size of the event, approaching anyone you don't know can feel intimidating. Which is why having some ice-breaker questions and conversation starters ready will help you start or join any conversation easily and successfully.
If you are attending an event alone, look for another person who is alone or looking for someone to talk to. Your first conversation at an event is often the gateway to meeting more people and you never know who you might end up connecting with.
Consider starting with these ice-breaker questions:
- What brought you to this event?
- Are you familiar with any of the speakers?
- How long have you been in the industry and how did you get started?
- Ask for people's thoughts on current industry news, trends, or topics
By asking informed and relevant questions, you'll relieve any awkwardness for you or the people you are speaking with. And when the first conversation goes smoothly, you'll be even more confident in your future interactions.
3. Have an Elevator Pitch
Business cards are useful, but more often than not, they end up shoved in someone's wallet, purse, or discarded as quickly as they are handed out.
Instead, consider having a 30-second elevator pitch that provides enough information to understand the problem you and your business are solving and how you are solving it.
Highlight who you are, what you are going to do, and how you are different from any competitors in your industry.
Lastly, end with a specific ask by telling them how they can help like “When would you like to take a tour of our facility?” or “Would you be willing to share your contact information?”
4. Be Confident
Many people like the phrase, “Fake it till you make it,” for networking. If it works for you, go for it. If you're comfortable just being yourself - nothing more and nothing less, that works too - authenticity is in. The important thing is to be confident and self-assured about what you are saying. If you're uncertain about what you're saying, your audience will be to. Likewise, if you are comfortable and self-assured about what you're saying, the listener(s) will be too.
During the event, initiate conversations with others, offer a firm handshake if it's appropriate, stand up straight, and keep eye contact throughout your conversations.
And remember, nonverbal communication is just as important - if not more - as your verbal communication. By being confident, you'll make it easier for you and others to maintain a conversation.
5. Follow Up and Keep Networking
As we mentioned before, the only way to strengthen your networking muscle is to continue working your networking muscle.
Attend as many networking events and opportunities as possible. Your network should always be evolving, even after you have found a job or investor.
In addition, networking is only the first step in building a relationship that leads to a lasting impression. Take the time after the event to promptly follow up with a personalized email or LinkedIn message.
Thank them for their time, identify one or two things you enjoyed about your conversation with them, and invite them to coffee or lunch so you can connect further. Don't be afraid to also connect with them on social media.
Networking is only as useful and effective as you make it. Try out these tips at your next networking event and see what preparation and confidence leads to!