As small business owners and consultants, we understand the importance of networking. Your ability to schmooze, to meet people, and to create relationships will very often determine your success in business and how far you’re able to take your company. However, that doesn’t mean most of us are very good at it. We have a difficult time starting conversations and even keeping the relationships that we do start.
We could all be a little better.
Below are four tips to help increase your networking A-game:
1. Ask Better Questions
When you attend a conference, seminar or networking event, you’re not there for small talk. You’re there to learn more about the people who are attending the event and to uncover potential business opportunities. That means those vague questions designed to fill the silence but that don’t actually reveal any information? They need to go.
What types of questions should you be asking?
Ones that dig deeper. Get a handle on your new contact’s story – when did they start their business, why did they start it, what is their business mentality/how do they see things? Ask about the tools they use, the pain points they have, what they’re working on, and what they’re excited about.
These types of questions are going to move you beyond the “Hi, my name is John” phase and they’re going to get you closer inside their business and their mind. This is important for getting to know people, but it’s also important down the road when you’re looking to maintain the relationships you’ve created.
2. Share a Memorable Fact
At some point the conversation will turn to you. Someone will ask you what you do, what brings you here, or about your hobbies. Instead of using this opportunity to be boring and sound like everyone else, share something that is unique and memorable about you. Maybe you have a passion for collecting coins. Or you sky dive on the weekends. Or you’re an advocate for a particular cause.
Share something that will help that person to not only remember you, but to learn a little bit more about who you really are. Networking is not about learning everyone’s name in the room. It’s about forming relationships. The more you reveal about yourself, the better the relationship you’ll create.
3. Keep Notes
Immediately after you return home from the event, while your adrenaline is still pumping, jot down information about everything that happened while you were out:
- Who did you meet?
- What did you talk about?
- What is the important information about the people you met (interests, kids, projects they’re working on)
- What cards do you have in your pocket?
- What topics kept coming up?
- Did you promise to call/email/connect with someone?
Getting this all down on paper while it’s still fresh in your mind will leave you better prepared for follow up conversations, will help you remember important information, and can assist in cataloging your new contacts.
4. Create a Reason For Follow Ups
Maybe it’s that you’ll give the person a call to discuss X.
Or that you’re going to look up Y and back to them.
Or that you heard they were having a problem with Z and you have the solution.
Whatever it is, have a reason for a follow up conversation in the near future. If you’ve asked the right questions, you should have an idea of how you can be of value to that person – whether it’s a tool recommendation, an introduction, or the opportunity for a deeper conversation. Find a way to take action on it to keep the momentum and the relationship going.
If you return home from networking events without a list of things to do or no plans for how you’ll reconnect with the people you had conversations with, you’re missing out on potentially huge business opportunities.
Those are some of the tips that help me in my business networking? Any pointers you’re willing to share with the class? I’m sure we could all benefit.