Business networking is the act of forming relationships to improve your company—from finding clients to discovering new suppliers to meeting government officials. The key word is “relationships.” Think of networking as a passive way to form relationships slowly, not as an aggressive way to hunt for new customers.
Why Should You Do Local Business Networking?
Networking is especially important for a new company—you want as many potential clients and referrers as possible to know about you and your business. A few good relationships could result in your first clients. Networking also leads to word-of-mouth outside of the event, which is one of your most effective ways to market your business.
Good networking is an investment of time more than money. The return on investment in networking is hard to track. So why do it?
- Opportunities: Personal connections are still the best way to take advantage of unique prospects—a new warehouse coming up for sale or a change in local regulations.
- Goodwill: People are more inclined to recommend businesses they have a relationship with. They’re also more likely to negotiate if you have already shown yourself to be friendly and dependable in other areas.
- Connections: The people you meet may not be able to help you, but they may be able to introduce you to someone who can.
- Support: Having a network of peers provides a resource of people to turn to for advice, inspiration, and guidance.
- Lead generation: Tactics used to attract potential customers is called lead generation. Consistently attending networking events to develop referral contacts is a common lead generation strategy.
Preparing for a Business Networking Event
Before showing up to a networking event, it’s wise to take a few steps to prepare. A little work beforehand will help you achieve your goals and ensure the event you attend is a success.
Choose the Right Business Networking Group
Not all events will be beneficial for your business. Even a quality event might not be the right fit for your goals. Plus, events tend to have different energy levels —which ones match your personality the best?
Here are suggestions of popular networking groups:
- Local Chamber of Commerce: A local chamber is traditionally a group of small business owners. Before attending, look at the business list online to see if you know any of the current members. You may be able to attend a meeting no-cost as a guest. Otherwise, call the chamber and request an invitation.
- Business Network International: This organization is composed of 270,000 businesses worldwide that meet to network for sales referrals. They have 9,500 chapters and offer virtual meetings.
- Industry Associations or Groups: Professional organizations often host events. If you are not a member, you may need to contact the organizers and RSVP. Don’t be surprised if the group requires a fee to attend. Sometimes, they hold events to recruit new members as well.
- Local Meetups: Meetup.com is a platform many organizations use to host event pages and collect sign ups. For you, it’s a great way to discover local events that you may be interested in.
- Industry-Related Conferences and Trade Shows: Industry events are appealing because you can meet new people in your field and receive continuing education. Although trade shows may require travel, they can be lucrative—up to 20% of a business’ new customers may come from a trade show.
- Special Demographics Business Groups: You can find business groups for people of specific religions, races, genders, and interests. One way to find these groups is through social media, such as Facebook Groups.
When selecting an event to attend, consider cost vs potential benefit. Invitation-only events may have fewer attendees, but a more focused group. On the other hand, large public events give you access to a broader range of people, like potential suppliers and advisers.
Design a Memorable Business Card
The business card is a staple when it comes to networking—it provides an easy way to share your contact information for following up. Consider designing a virtual business card that can be texted or shared via a QR code. Having both a physical and digital card gives you flexibility and separates you from the crowd.
Before handing out a card, invest in an appealing design that displays your brand. Select a design that grabs attention, is quickly read, and easy to store. Unusual card shapes may be trendy, but make sure they fit easily into a wallet.
LinkedIn: Your Social Media ‘Business Card’
Anyone networking in business should have a LinkedIn profile. This social media will be the go-to place for following up after a networking event.
Overall your profile should be clean, professional, updated, and on-brand. Make sure your LinkedIn is up-to-date with a memorable headline. Also, include your LinkedIn web address on your business card.
Create a Branded Mask
Wearing masks will likely be a requirement for networking events for the foreseeable future. Masks make it difficult to recognize faces but do present an opportunity for brand recognition. Many promotional product companies will print masks with your logo. Consider a unique mask for networking, such as with your business’ tag line, or a clever question to break the ice.
Perfect Your Pitch
Networking events often offer attendees a 30 to 60-second opportunity to tell the group about their business. This period is where you will share your business’s pitch.
The pitch is a quick-but-enticing summary of you and your business. If this is your first business, you may need to tweak your pitch to get it right. Your explanation shouldn’t be salesy. It should give a quick overview of your company, its location, and how it benefits customers. At the end of your pitch, listeners should be able to reiterate what you provide.
Create pitches of different lengths. The 15-second and 30-second pitches are good for informal sessions or personal introductions. Pitches of a minute or two are best for more formal meetings with potential business partners, or if someone asks you to tell them more about your business.
To get good at the pitch, write it down, and read it aloud to yourself. Say it every day, 10 times a day. When you deliver it, gauge the listeners’ body language. Are they engaged? Tweak the pitch until you easily attract someone’s attention and make a memorable impact.
Find a Networking Buddy
You don’t have to network alone. Having a networking buddy gives you someone to tag-team the conversation with, boost each other up, and help you expand your network. If they belong to an organization that you don’t, they can help you join.
Prepare with your buddy ahead of the event by sharing your business pitches and goals for the networking event. At the event, have your buddy observe you deliver your pitch—at any point did listeners seem uninterested?
Determine Your Goal
Once you’ve chosen the event, determine at least one goal. This setting of intention will help guide your conversations and who you meet.
Are you networking to:
- Get more clients?
- Meet folks in your industry?
- Network with local business owners?
- Meet someone with a specific skill or background?
- Connect with the leaders of the networking group?
Check your goals against what the event can offer: A learning event, for example, may not provide a lot of opportunity for meeting the leadership.
When you know your goal, what specific steps do you need to take to achieve it? Is there a particular breakout session you need to attend? Did you study the backgrounds of the people you want to meet? Should you create a unique business card? What about bringing samples or a visual representation of your product or service?
During the Business Networking Event
The networking event can be stressful, but with the preparation you’ve done, you’re ready. At the event, there are tips you can follow to make sure the conversations go well, and it’s an overall success for your business.
Treat Everyone as Important
Although you go to a networking event with a goal, remember that the overall purpose of networking is to create relationships. Don’t think of the people there as one-time connections. You will build long-lasting connections with some of them.
Be the kind of person anyone would want to do business with. After all, you never know who can make a quality connection for you. Treat everyone with respect and attentiveness.
Follow the One Sentence Persuasion Technique
To quickly build rapport with the people you meet, follow the One Sentence Persuasion technique, a language framework by author Blair Warren:
People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions, and help them throw rocks at their enemies.
When having conversations, use the sentence above to guide what you say. Good friends tend to follow the recommendations above. When you follow this advice with someone you don’t know well, you can quickly build a connection.
Asking engaging questions are a great way to get a person to open up. Ask open-ended questions about their business. Listen to their answers before asking for a follow-up or adding to the conversation.
To break the ice, start the conversation with a simple, broad question:
- What do you enjoy about your business?
- How did you get involved in the industry?
- What do you think about the local business climate?
- What would you tell someone starting in this business?
- What do you wish you knew when you started?
- What local resources have helped your business?
- How can I help you?
As you build rapport, ask more personal questions. Pay attention to the tone of the answers too. A curt reply could mean the person is shy, or it could mean you’ve hit a topic they’d rather not discuss.
Relationships are built on give-and-take, so be prepared to give. Offer something: a connection, a potential lead, or complimentary advice.
Enter the networking event with a giving mindset. The act of giving fosters trust and makes the person more likely to remember you and feel inclined to help you in return.
Establish Next Steps
The one question you should never forget if you’ve met a great contact is, “How can I reach you in the future?” At this moment, you typically exchange business cards. Also, ask which method is the best way to connect.
If your conversation goes well, consider arranging a future meeting. You typically don’t want to talk to one person at an event for an extended period of time. If there is a topic you’d like to discuss in-depth, ask to grab a coffee or invite them to your business.
If you say you’ll provide something such as a potential client’s contact information or a website link, make sure to follow up.
Right after a conversation, make notes. You especially want to do this if you offered something or asked for a follow-up. A popular strategy is to write notes about a person on the back of their business card. Write down at least one unique piece of information about the person or the conversation—you will refer to when you follow up with them later.
At the very least, make a note of the person you talked to and a contact number—you want to keep track of what you said to whom.
Photos are a great way to document an event, remember people, and provide connections. Before snapping any pictures, be sure first that photo-taking is allowed. Usually, speakers are OK with this. However, if the presenter shares proprietary information, they may prefer not to have it shared on social media.
After the Business Networking Event
Your networking tasks don’t end when the event does. Take time to follow up and evaluate your performance and the value of the event itself. This follow up can help cement contacts and build relationships as well as make future events more fruitful.
Follow Through on Commitments
You should have taken notes about any commitments. After the event, go back over these and follow up on them first. If you promised to share photos, do so. Next, follow up with people you met via email or phone. Don’t wait to do this. People appreciate speed, and you will be less likely to forget.
When reaching out, be sure to remind your contacts of where you met, and mention something from the conversation. That’s where notes come in handy. You can also benefit by reviewing their social media or website and seeing if you both have anything in common. If so, comment on that item when you initially reach out to connect.
Follow up and Connect on LinkedIn
For everyone you met at the event, connect with them on LinkedIn. When you send a connection request, also send a message. In the message, try to reference something discussed in the meeting. When reaching out, don’t jump in with a sales pitch—look to build the relationship first.
Post Event Photos on Social Media
If you took photos, and have the consent of speakers, post them on social media. In addition to your own personal social media page, consider posting the images on the organization’s Facebook or event page as well. Don’t forget to hashtag the event and tag anyone involved.
Tweak Your Pitch
Go back over your performance at the event and evaluate:
- How successful was your pitch?
- What tweaks do you need to make?
- Did people come to you and ask for more information?
- Were there any common questions about your business?
If you went with a networking buddy, get their feedback on how others reacted as well. Ask about both the content and delivery of the pitch.
Plan Your Next Networking Event
You won’t make long-lasting business relationships in a single conversation. A standard recommendation in small business networking is to make seven to 11 in-person contacts with someone before expecting them to recommend or become a client. This is how long it may take to build trust.
To network successfully, you need to show up consistently. Attend at least a couple of events by the same group before deciding it’s not for you. If you find a group that does serve you well and you enjoy, consider an expanded role, such as helping with the next event or taking a leadership position. With any group you tend to get out of it what you put in.
Using networking events to help grow your business takes persistence and patience. If you’re lucky you may achieve your networking goal after your first event. However, the benefits of networking tend to snowball. As you meet more people and your personal network grows, you’ll become the connection that others want their friends and business peers to meet.