If you run a small business, you probably need to be out there networking. But just the mention of that word is enough to make most of us cringe. Here are five tips to make it easier – and more effective:
1. Fish in the right pond. A great business lead can come from anyone, but you’re much more likely to make connections that count if you’re networking at events attended by people who are real prospects for you. This seems obvious, but the first step to successful networking is to go where you’ll meet people who can actually give you business.
2. Get your elevator speech ready. Sooner or later, someone will ask: “What do you do?” Do you have that one-sentence answer ready? You might want to craft a response that’s framed in terms of what you offer that’s a little different. For instance, instead of saying something like, “I own a lawn care company,” your answer might be “I give homeowners an organic alternative for lawn care.” Or even, “I make lawns so healthy you could actually eat the grass.” Not only are the last two more likely to prompt further conversation, they also set you apart from the competition. Not to mention that the first response would be all about you, instead of what you offer your customers.
3. Focus on helping other people feel comfortable. This is the single best tip I know of for successful networking. Forget about selling yourself and focus on drawing other people out. Pretend you’re the host of the party, and you need to make sure none of the guests are standing around feeling awkward. Something about this approach makes it much easier to overcome any shyness or nervousness.
4. Don’t hand someone a card unless they ask for it. Whatever you do, and I repeat, whatever, do not be one of those jerks pushing their way through an event tossing out cards like they’re throwing Mardi Gras beads to the crowd. Do you think anyone is saving that guy’s card to call him up later and give him a big chunk of business? You’d make more friends by having too much to drink and throwing up in the potted palm. The first step is to look someone in the eye, introduce yourself, and have an actual conversation. The best time to ask for someone’s card is at the end of your chat, not at the beginning. The best time to give someone your card is after they’ve asked for one.
5. Look for ways you can help the people you meet. If someone mentions she’s looking for a new banker, offer to email her the contact information for someone you’d recommend. If you meet someone looking for a job, see if you can connect him with someone in his industry. You’ll be surprised how often a contact you help now will turn up down the road when you need something yourself. Besides, it feels good to help.