When the Chamber surveys our members, we continually find that one of the main reasons people join is for the networking opportunities. But, just like with a gym membership, if you don’t actually go to the gym and use the equipment correctly, you’re not going to see the results. The same is true with Chamber events. If you don’t go, or you go and don’t talk to anyone new, you won’t make many new business contacts.
Meeting new people can be exciting and scary at the same time. When faced with a full room of strangers, it’s very easy to want to turn and walk the other way. Here are a few helpful hints to get you into the room and on your way to making meaningful business relationships:
• Bring a buddy. It’s a lot easier to walk into a new situation if you recognize a friendly face. But make sure you talk to more than just him or her throughout the event.
• Don’t have a buddy to bring? Ask the Chamber (or the group holding the event) to pair you up with a volunteer who can help you make the rounds. Networking can be difficult for a lot of people. There is no shame in asking for help!
• Have a number in mind of the people you want to talk to. Keep it reasonable. If there are 50 people in the room, you may have a goal of having six meaningful conversations. That will make it easier not to get overwhelmed.
• If you’re a natural salesman and networking events are easy for you, keep in mind that the attendees didn’t come out just to hear your sales pitch. Remember, the best relationships are give and take. Learn about the person you’re talking with and they’ll want to get to know you too.
• Exchange business cards. Give out your own and remember to take notes on the back of the ones you receive. If you write down a thing or two about the person you meet, or their business, it will make contacting them in the future more seamless.
• Follow up. Either call or e-mail the people you meet and keep going to more networking events! You’ll see limited results if you attend just one event. Keep broadening your circle with the more events you attend. With many groups, like the Chamber, there are other groups and clubs to get involved with to make connections. While business mixers are fun after hours events, many clubs offer breakfast and lunchtime meetings and offer the chance to get to know people better through committee work.
• Once you’re a networking pro, remember what it is like to be the new guy. When you see someone new, don’t just stick with the friends you’ve made in the past. Introduce yourself and bring the new person into your conversation.
Of course, the most important thing is to make networking a priority. If you want to grow your business, making personal connections is an important step. Put it on your calendar and make it a priority to attend and engage! Hope to see you at an event soon.