Professional networking can be the single most powerful marketing tactic to accelerate and sustain success for any freelancer or small business owner.
We are constantly bombarded with advertisements, emails, status updates, special offers and sales pitches. But personal relationships enable you and your organization to stand out, rise above the noise and remain top of mind.
If pursued strategically, attending professional networking events can lead to an abundance of opportunities. Joint ventures, client leads, partnerships, speaking engagements or writing prospects — the opportunities that arise from networking can be endless.
However, you can only take advantage of networking opportunities by having the right approach. Meaning, don’t go running from party to party.
Build your professional network like a boss
Each event you plan to attend should be researched ahead of time and align with your business goals. You should have an idea of the crowd the event will solicit, consider the venue, estimate the cost of attendance, etc. Otherwise you might find yourself spinning your wheels going to parties or mixers that have no return on your investment – be it your time or your money.
But walking into a room with a group of strangers, extending your hand and introducing yourself can be a daunting proposition. Some fear meeting new people. While others love the experience of interacting with strangers and creating new alliances. No matter where you fall on this scale, you can improve your networking skill and comfort.
Below are my tips and tricks to help you network like a boss.
1. Choose the right events.
Not every group of people will be right for you or your business objectives. Choose groups and events where the people that congregate share your interests and/or there are potential clients.
2. Don’t be afraid to RSVP for one.
Networking events are intimidating, so people often bring someone else to lean on as a crutch. But having a crutch might prevent you from opening up to new people. I like to go to networking events alone because I never know who I’ll talk to. It makes the possibilities endless.
3. Dress appropriately and professionally.
Establish yourself as a successful person, which you can do by dressing the part. This does not mean that you need to wear expensive clothes, but do wear something a bit on the dressy side and leave the comfortable baggy pants at home. If necessary, get advice from an image consultant.
4. Bring business cards.
One of the most powerful weapons in your marketing arsenal is your business card. Yes, technology has changed the face of business, but it has not replaced business cards. Not only do business cards help us present a good image by highlighting the services we provide, but they can also help to enhance the personal image of us as business people.
Having a business card improves the legitimacy of your company, the work you are doing, or the service you are offering. Handing out a business card makes a tangible statement and speaks volumes about the seriousness of what you are doing.
By smiling, you’ll put your nervous self at ease, and you’ll also come across as warm and inviting to others. Remember to smile before you enter the room, or before you start your next conversation.
6. Introduce yourself.
An introduction should have three parts: an opening statement, one or two examples and a closer that opens up the conversation to the person or group you are chatting with. The specific words you choose will arise spontaneously in the moment depending on who you are talking to, but planning the highlights of what you want to say will help you engage confidently.
Here’s a good example of a smart introduction: “I am the social media strategist for We Love Books. I build a community for book lovers to discover our store online. I love my work because it’s fun and it really makes a difference for people.”
7. Ask easy, open-ended questions.
Don’t wait around the edges of the room waiting for someone to approach you. To get the conversation started, simply walk up to a person or a group and say, “May I join you?” or “What brings you to this event?” Don’t forget to listen intently to their replies. If you’re not a natural extrovert, you’re probably a very good listener ─ and listening can be an excellent way to get to know a person.
8. Know your drinking limits.
Networking events will no doubt involve alcohol. But know your limits and stick within them. Remember that potential clients, leads, partners, customers are also in attendance and are observing your behaviour. Learn to sip rather than guzzle. Eat before you get to the event. Carry a drink around with you as a prop and drink only half (or none) of it. No one will notice that you’re not drinking if you are busy making dazzling conversation.
9. Follow up.
It’s often said that networking is where the conversation begins, not ends. If you’ve had a great exchange, ask your conversation partner the best way to stay in touch. Some people like email or phone; others prefer social networks like LinkedIn. Get in touch within 48 hours of the event to show you’re interested and available, and reference something that you discussed, so your contact remembers you.
10. Embrace LinkedIn.
Networking events or professional association meetings may be weekly or monthly — let LinkedIn bridge the gap. Carry the personal connections you make in person to the digital world. LinkedIn is a convenient way to keep in touch, and it’s a more professional platform to share your business background.
To succeed in business you must continually connect with new people, cultivate emerging relationships and leverage your network. Attending the right events, dressing appropriately and having your introduction prepared and practiced ahead of time, can go a long way in helping you network successfully. Relationships are the catalyst for success. People do business with those they like and trust.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Alethea Robinson is a seasoned marketing professional specializing in creative ideation, marketing strategy, content development, event management and copy writing. Alethea recently founded See Girl Work Marketing & Branding to help freelancers, entrepreneurs and small businesses with marketing strategies, branding and content writing. Before founding See Girl Work, Alethea was marketing manager at Cineflix Productions and Breakthrough Entertainment. Connect with @seegirlwork on Twitter.
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