Are you networking regularly? Do you worry about whether you’re getting it right? Are you unsure where you should even start?
If you’re a self-employed mum, successful networking can create a significant stream of clients – and income. Building relationships with local businesspeople through networking is like having your very own sales team working for out in the field. But how can you be sure you’re doing it right?
Celia Anderson, freelance copywriter and author of The Self-Employed Parent, shares her top twenty tips for making sure you’re squeezing every drop of potential out of each networking event you attend.
Top twenty tips for getting the most out of networking events…
1) Don’t forget your business cards!
You can often get a good deal through sites like VistaPrint if funds are a little tight initially. That’s where my first batch came from, but they were pretty basic and not very impressive. For better quality try Moo.
2) But don’t spam
Not everyone will need your card so don’t force it on them. Wait to be asked or see what kind of feel you’re getting from the exchange.
3) Great shakes
There is nothing worse than a clammy, limp handshake, so be firm but try not to break fingers. Try a surreptitious wipe on your trouser leg if your palms are getting sweaty (it happens to the best of us). You’ll feel daft doing this, but practise shaking your own hand to feel the difference between a short, confident shake and a more feeble effort.
If someone says something that resonates (like that they’ve got a big event coming up and need a florist just like you!), make notes on the back of their business card so you remember to follow up with a call or email.
5) Find the head honcho
See if you can make contact with the person who runs the show. You’ll get the inside track on what’s going on and where you should be positioning yourself for success. You might even be asked to give a short presentation or speech about your business.
6) Ask lots of questions
It can be tempting (especially when you’re nervous) to waffle on about yourself, but remember to ask lots of questions of the person you’re chatting with. Pick up threads from what they’ve said and ask them to expand. They’ll be flattered that you’re listening so intently.
7) Be friendly
By this, I mean don’t just talk about business. If someone mentions they have kids, ask how old they are, which school they attend etc. Being a parent can help you form great bonds with people on another level, away from business.
8) Give Back
The unwritten rule of networking is that it’s all about putting the effort back in. If your networking group meets regularly, make sure you collect new cards each time so that if you meet someone who may need a certain service, you’ll be able to provide them with a great recommendation.
9) Take your time
It’s about quality of meetings over quantity. Don’t feel like you have to work your way around the room talking to everyone. Just enjoy it and if the person you’re talking to isn’t necessarily a business prospect, they could still be a valuable link to someone who is.
10) Look the part
Whatever time of day you’re networking, it’s good to look presentable. You don’t have to go fully suited and booted but take your time to look well put together. You are your own brand! So…
11) Wear branded clothing/accessories
If you have any, a networking event is a great place to showcase your branded tees or printed-up tote bag.
12) Practise your pitch
You’re going to be asked what you do. A lot. So get it practised and aim to sum up your business in around 20-30 seconds. Try to inject a little personality. It’s not all about what you do, it’s equally as important to convey who you are and why you started your business. A good way to quickly summarise your offering is to describe succinctly your ideal client. So I would say: ‘My ideal client would be someone with a smart new website but no idea where to start with their content.’
13) Be efficient with referrals
If someone has taken the time to refer a friend or colleague your way, pick up the phone as soon as is practically possible. It could lead to a profitable working relationship, so don’t let the connection go cold.
14) Offer to help out
Talk to the networking event organiser(s) and see if you can donate a little time to helping out. It’ll give you a purpose at the event and a few brownie points as an added bonus.
15) Get social
Ahead of the event, follow the relevant social media accounts and join in with the chat. They’ll often post mentions of the event in the run-up and by getting involved in the conversation, people will already recognise your name when you get there and you’ll have something to talk about from the off.
16) Be enthusiastic
Especially about your business or service. Smile, make eye contact and tell your story. I guarantee people will want to listen and then share their experiences in return.
17) Strength in numbers
Bring a friend along. You don’t have to be self-employed to go to networking events, so see if someone in your circle would be willing to accompany you. Just make sure you resist the temptation to only talk to each other!
18) Limit the drinks
If you’re at an evening event, it can be tempting to throw back the fizz to help your nerves. But try to limit yourself to two glasses, otherwise you run the risk of both making a bit of a prat of yourself and forgetting valuable connections.
19) Get social afterwards
As well as warming up to the event beforehand, spend a bit of time the next day making social connections with those you’ve met, joining any groups that are linked to the event and joining in conversations where appropriate. You could even start a conversation thanking the organiser, and mention the people you spoke to in the post.
20) Go back again
Even if your first attempt at networking felt catastrophic (it probably wasn’t so bad), try to get back in the saddle for the next event. Think of it like your child’s first day of school: scary and new, but it gets easier as they become more comfortable (and they don’t have a choice, they have to go back!). I promise the same will happen for you if you keep trying.