We ran a very successful webinar in April, entitled “Finding Customers by Networking” (which you can watch again here!) There were a lot of questions coming out of that webinar, so in an attempt to give those who are interested some additional advice – we thought we’d write this article as a companion to the webinar.
In the first part of our article, we looked at why business networking works for helping you grow your business, and where to look to find business networking events close to you.
Next, we’ll look at what you should do to make sure your prepared for a business networking meeting to ensure you get the best results from it!
Preparation is the key to any business networking event. Prior to attending the event, make sure you have a good stock of business cards to hand out to people!
If you’ve not got a business card, or want some ideas on how to make your existing business card stand-out, then take a quick read of our article "Business Cards for MSPs”
Additionally, remember to take not one pen for note taking, but multiple pens! There is no easier way to make a friend than by giving them a pen when they’ve forgotten their own and they want to write some notes down!
Stocked with a good store of business cards and pens, you’ll next want to practice your elevator pitch. The elevator pitch, sometimes known as a 30 second commercial, is meant to convey to somebody who you are, what your product or service does to help a client and importantly, who your client would be.
The last part of your elevator pitch, who your client would be, is an important part – it helps the person you’re talking with to file through the filing cabinet that is their brain and highlight any potential referrals for you. For this reason, it’s important to be specific. Instead of saying “We work with small businesses”, you might say “We typically work with Accountants” or “We work with Law Firms and other Professional Service businesses”. The more specific your example – the easier it is for somebody to introduce you to that type of business.
For many events, an attendee list is published prior to the event itself. It is always useful to scan this list and find the names of two to three people who you share common ground with.
These people may be potential clients for you, they make work in a similar field to you and so make good Strategic Alliance partners (some examples for MSP’s include Data Cabling companies, Web Developers and SEO experts, Telecomms companies and even fellow IT companies who you might form a relationship with), or they may be somebody who you know is an influencer within your business community.
Once you’ve highlighted these attendees, do some research on them. Take a look at their web-site, see if they have Social Networking accounts – try to learn a bit about them. Individuals are typically flattered when you show them you’ve taken time to learn a bit about their business before meeting – but be aware there is a fine line between light research and cyber-stalking! Sharing that you know too much about an individual may come across in the wrong way!
Armed with a stack of business cards, a pocketful of pens, a strong elevator pitch, and a list of attendees you want to meet – you’re all prepared to go into the business networking event itself!
Once you’re at the networking event, remember the golden rule.
Do not sell!
You are at the event to meet people and start building relationships. Nothing is more off putting than to meet somebody for the first time and for them to start selling their services to you! Think about how you’d react in that situation!
There may be exceptional circumstances where serendipity strikes and you’re offering exactly the solution to a problem somebody is experiencing as you meet them – but even then, you’d be advised to make an appointment to see whether you’re a good fit to work together sometime shortly after the event.
Typically though, the best way to meet people and make a good impression is to put them first. Ask questions about the other person, their business, what they enjoy about work, why they chose their profession. If you see the opportunity to, offer to help them with suggestions and introductions.
In short, be a “Go Giver” and not a “Go Getter”.
There is an awesome book by the authors John David Mann and Bob Burg entitled “The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea”. In it, the authors tell a story of the “Five Laws of Stratospheric Success”. It is well worth a read to understand how putting other people’s considerations first will help you build relationships.
When it comes to the point in the conversation where you are offered a business card and the opportunity to keep in touch with the person you’ve met, use one of those many pens you are carrying to make notes about your conversation on their business card. Later on, these notes will come in very handy as memory hooks!
But what if you are, like many of us, nervous about introducing yourself to strangers. Here’s some tips to help you confidently “work the room” at events.
Look for “Open” Groups – these are typically where two people are chatting stood side-on to one another. You can easily join them without feeling as though you’re interrupting. If people are in a “Closed” group – directly facing one another, or groups of people stood in a closed circle – then it feels more awkward and difficult to join in.
A simple “May I join you?” when approaching people is the easiest introduction you can make. Business networking events are all about meeting new people, so people will go out of their way to make you feel welcome – if you let them!
Make sure to introduce yourself clearly to others, and remember to encourage them to do the talking. You want to learn about them.
The idea of a networking event is to meet more than one person. The temptation is, once you’ve met somebody you get along with, to spend the rest of your time chatting to them! Instead, use phrases like “I suppose you know lots of people here?” at an appropriate time – they will either answer “Yes” or “No”. If “Yes”, ask them if they’d mind introducing you to someone they know to help you meet people (maybe even one of those attendees you highlighted in your pre-meeting preparation!). If they say “No” then you can suggest that you go and meet others together, one of you introducing the other to a new face!
It can feel difficult to meet people at networking events, but remember that most other people feel that way too. Once you’ve learnt some techniques for breaking the ice with people, you’ll feel more comfortable and networking events will feel a lot more natural.
In our next and final part of this article, we’ll look at what to do after the event with all those business cards you’ve acquired, and how to use Social Networking alongside Business Networking events.
Enjoy this article? Be sure to stick around for Part 3!