When approached with preparation and purpose, networking events can lead to valuable connections that can help small businesses expand their reach.
“They provide an opportunity to network and get to know peers in the same group and like business,” said Doris Glenn, an instructor for the Institute for Entrepreneurship with the Small Business Center at Central Piedmont Community College.
And “sometimes you have an opportunity to barter for services you may not ordinarily be able to afford,” Glenn said. For example, an accounting business could trade bookkeeping services in exchange for marketing advice from a public relations company.
Glenn offered these tips for making the most of a networking event:
Be prepared: Make sure you approach the event with confidence and comfort with your message. Practice an “elevator speech,” or a short synopsis of your business or services, and be prepared to succinctly describe who you are, your skill set and your aspirations.
Bring a good supply of business cards and have them readily available to give people you meet at the event.
Arrive early: It’s important to know who else is attending the event. When you pick up your welcome badge, take note of other people who will be there.
Break the ice by introducing yourself right at the registration table.
Keep your behavior professional: While networking events are social events, one of the most common mistakes people make is having too much fun at the expense of business.
“This may be a social event for some, but for a serious networker, this is work,” Glenn said. “Socializing will play second fiddle.”
Introduce yourself to people with a firm handshake, and look for an appropriate point in the conversation to begin your elevator speech. Don’t force it; the conversation should flow naturally.
Follow up: Look for future leads and opportunities. If appropriate, ask if you could schedule an appointment to discuss how your services could benefit his or her organization.
Hand out business cards, and use your smartphone to collect contact information if you are not given a business card in return.