Networking has always played a powerful role for successful small businesses – after all, the old adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” still rings true for many an entrepreneur today.
Here we tell you how to network at business events and that face-to-face networking can beat social media any day.
Digital vs physical networking
In this digital age, it’s easy to spend your entire working life sitting at a desk, staring at a computer screen, and sinking into a cacophonous world of vacuous digital networking. Many small business owners believe that it is no longer worth leaving the office to network in person, given that communication can now be carried out entirely through screens.
But successful entrepreneurs will always tell you that virtual relationships will never be as fruitful and genuinely authentic as the relationships formed through traditional, physical, face-to-face networking.
As well as affording opportunities to learn more about your industry, business events such as conferences, conventions, trade shows and seminars can present valuable places to network and marketing opportunities.
Such events offer an environment where business owners and staff are able to meet and build strong relationships with existing clients, potential new customers and suppliers, and industry thought leaders. Face-to-face networking at business events can lead to collaborative opportunities and fresh ideas, and can also be an effective way to build authority in your niche.
This isn’t to say that digital networking is entirely worthless, of course – however, moderation and variety are key when it comes to networking methods. A successful marketing campaign will combine both digital and physical networking so that they complement each other. This can be achieved by thinking strategically and dividing your time equally between the two approaches.
For example, LinkedIn can be hugely helpful for finding out about the people you’re likely to meet at traditional networking events. You can review the profiles of people on the guest list in advance, and connect digitally with those you feel it might be worth meeting in person on the day. There’s a wealth of detail you can glean from LinkedIn profiles, including someone’s working history, their current role, their skills and interests. Then, when you meet those people face-to-face you will be armed with useful information to ensure you gain maximum benefit from your conversation or meeting.
You can also follow up on a conversation with a potential client you have met at an event through LinkedIn and other social media channels. After all, a solid follow-up strategy is vital if you’re to make the most of traditional networking.
Networking at business events
Try putting these useful tips into practice when attending your next in-person networking event.
Prepare to be bold: Some entrepreneurs feel uncomfortable at networking events because they feel as though they’re walking into a party without knowing anybody. However, it helps to remember that everybody else is in the same boat. If you aren’t a natural social animal and the idea of approaching complete strangers horrifies you, then arrive prepared with a few conversation starters up your sleeve to break the ice. Begin by scanning the room, and find someone who looks even more uncomfortable than you. Speak to them first to begin building your own confidence and soon you will network like a pro.
Show people how you can solve their problem: When you focus on helping others to solve a problem or reduce their “pain” in some way, you create a long-lasting bond that they will never forget. Joe Polish – regarded by many entrepreneurs as the king of networking – has become known for his belief that “life gives to the givers and takes from the takers.” He argues that if you form genuine relationships, make giving service to others your priority, and add as much value as possible to their lives, then people will respect and appreciate what you have to offer and good things will come back to you.
Follow up with new contacts: When you return to the office, it is a good idea to categorise your new contacts before following up with them. Be sure to remember to connect with people you have met face-to-face on LinkedIn and other social media platforms, and Like, comment and share their content whenever appropriate. Personalise your communications, and avoid sending standardised messages and obvious sales pitches.
Business networking events provide the perfect environment to learn directly from other small business owners, and to impress potential new clients. Smart networking can also boost your reputation within the business community.
There are many other networking techniques we could cover here, but ultimately, the most important takeaway is to focus on building genuine relationships. So, when communicating with others for the first time it is essential to identify common ground, keep communications light and natural, maintain positive eye contact, listen attentively, and respond with relevant, insightful questions.
Follow this advice and you will be separating yourself from the rest of the pack, and well on your way to network, forging valuable, mutually beneficial connections for your business.