Networking is a critical best practice for business owners regardless of their company’s size. When you are just starting out, the effort you put in to making and nurturing contacts can directly impact your revenue and the future success of your business.
Smart Business spoke to Elisabeth Fraser Au-Yeung, vice president of marketing at Sensiba San Filippo LLP, about tips and tools that can help you become a polished and eloquent networking expert.
How can business owners prepare for a networking event?
Savvy networkers always have a plan in place before attending an event. A plan may include evaluating the event — is the event of high value to attend? What are your goals for attending? Will your target audience be in attendance?
Try to obtain a list of attendees and any sponsor firms prior to the event. Use the list to build a prioritized list of ‘target’ attendees you want to meet and speak with. You can take it one step further and create goals for each person you want to meet, as well as speaking points that you have thought out and practiced for when you meet that person. You can even search online for photos of the individuals you want to meet so you can more easily find and recognize them.
In addition, you need to have a few tools including business cards, a practiced and polished elevator pitch, and even marketing collateral that you can hand out. Have a pen so you can make notes on the back of the business cards you receive. Note any significant details that the person you met shared so when you follow up, you can mention this and make it a more impactful and personalized connection.
When you arrive, how do you start a conversation?
It can be more comfortable to arrive to an event early, as the room will be less crowded. Do not wait for someone to approach you. Be the master of your own destiny. Approach a person or a group and ask if you can join them. When you meet someone, make eye contact, have a firm handshake and smile. By doing so, you will look and feel more confident.
As you are speaking with people, listen to what they have to say and be cautious about interrupting. When it is your turn to speak, ask open-ended questions about the people with whom you’re speaking, such as what brought them to attend the event? What makes them passionate about their business or industry? What are they doing for the summer? People enjoy discussing the things they are passionate about, including their business and personal interests.
How should business owners ‘pitch’ themselves and their business?
When asked about your business, have a brief and easily understandable description of what you do. Be sure to incorporate into your description the ‘so what’ factor — what it is that makes you or your company different and why the person you are speaking with should be interested in hearing more about your business.
What are the most important tips for success in networking?
Networking is all about relationship building — having rapport and building chemistry over a period of time with people you meet. A relationship will not be built at just one event. It is something that needs to be nurtured.
Remember to ask everyone you meet for a business card. After the event, send an email and a LinkedIn invite to connect with them within 48 hours. Reference something you discussed by checking your notes on the backs of the business cards so your contacts have a recollection of your conversation. Make yourself ‘valuable’ by offering to send a white paper or thought-leadership piece. Follow up with your contacts every 30 days to keep in touch, and even offer to meet for coffee or lunch to further strengthen your relationship.
Elisabeth Fraser Au-Yeung is a vice president of marketing at Sensiba San Filippo LLP. Reach her at (925) 271-8700 or email@example.com.
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