The day I started my own business is the day that I started a serious relationship with networking events. Like most New Yorkers I signed up on several groups on MeetUp and tried to attend as many free or cheap events as possible. What I found deeply disappointed me: 300 people in one room, nametags, card pushing and no structure. Sound familiar? Given the circumstances, how do you make sure that networking is as successful as it’s suppose to be? Below are some tips on staying focused, connecting with the right people and making sure that people will remember you.
The event. There are three different kinds of networking events: workshops, connecting and speed networking. Workshops are usual educationally driven and involve guest speakers or sponsors discussing a certain topic and delivering resources. Connecting events are networking events that are organized to have intimate and close relationships form between group members. These events are generally well structured, including a host and activities and sometimes membership fees. Speed networking is very similar to musical chairs with the intent of meeting as many people in one evening as possible. It doens’t necessary have to always include a “speed networking” activity but will almost always be space packed with a large group of people (150 +) wearing name tags looking to collect as many business cards as possible. Make sure you know which kind of networking event is right for you –where does your ideal client network?- before signing up.
The Pitch. So you already know you need a solid pitch. Duh. But are you focusing too much on delivery your pitch? A pitch is generally only suited for speed networking events where you need to pass around the room as quickly possible. If you are using your pitch all the time you might come off as too aggressive. Try connecting by asking questions about someone’s personal life, habits, pets, sports or interests. If you are able to get people to like you for you then they will not only be more interested in working with you once you get around to talking business but to refer you as well.
Sponsor an Event. Sponsoring an event can be a great way to increase brand visibility and generate sales. But before you commit, do your research! Make sure your clients are attending the event –what is your target market?- and zone in on a particular service or package you are going to promote throughout the evening. If you think it’s a good fit, speak with the event organizer and find out how much speaking time you can get as this varies from event to event. At my networking event (check us out here) I let sponsors host their own room and speak with 3 intimate groups of 15 women entrepreneurs and business owners. The sessions are very interactive and experience driven so that participants can immediately see the benefits of working with them. At other events, you might have the opportunity speak and welcome guests, host a table or booth, or be mentioned in a shout out. Make sure that whatever you sign up for works for your business to ensure positive engagement with potential clients.
Follow-up. Schedule an email follow-up session 2-3 days after attending any networking event. This will allow you time to input new contacts in your rolodex and send out emails to follow-up with your contacts within the week of meeting them. If possible, state something personal that you might have spoken about to jog their memory –odds are they will not remember you. And, that’s ok. Ask them if they might be interested in setting a time up to speak further. If you do schedule a coffee date or phone call, remember that this time this is not another opportunity to talk about their kids or where they live or why they don’t drink coffee. This is your opportunity to sell. Most people only schedule calls and coffee dates in 30 minute slots so come prepared and focuses; know the ins and outs of what you are offering or selling. At the end of the meeting be sure to ask if you can send a proposal or pitch.