5 Tips for Tentative Networkers – How to Make Connections Online and Offline
by Caron_Beesley, Community Moderator
- Created: February 9, 2012, 7:40 am
- Updated: March 5, 2012, 7:46 am
How’s your business networking strategy doing? Have you even got one?
It doesn’t matter what type of business you run, networking with potential partners, customers, suppliers and even your peers is an essential part of business ownership.
For many of us though, the term “networking” conjures up images of schmoozy sales pitches and painfully difficult networking events. Let’s face it – it can be downright scary throwing yourself into a room with a glass of wine in your hand as your only defense from the pressure of kick-starting a conversation with a complete stranger!
So let’s ditch the term “networking” and instead talk about what networking is really intended to achieve: “making connections.”
Making connections is something we do all the time. From the airport to the trade show conference floor – whether you are in business mode or not, you are always making connections. It’s existential; as an entrepreneur, you literally have to do it. It doesn’t matter whether you own a landscaping business or are a home-based freelance graphic designer, being prepared and open to making connections is your lifeblood.
So how can you seamlessly weave the habit of making connections into your daily routine, both online and off? Here are some tips for all you networking haters.
If you are attending an event, whether it’s a seminar, trade show, or a local Chamber of Commerce meet and greet, do your homework in advance.
Try to get a copy of the attendee list, take a look at the event organizer’s Facebook page to see who’s talking about attending the event, or do some research on LinkedIn to get to know people in advance. You could even reach out to your target connections beforehand and tell them you will be there and would like to meet.
Next, have specific goals. While you don’t want to walk into the room and dive straight into your own agenda, knowing who you want to connect with and having an outcome in mind will give you some structure and take some of the anxiety away. Having some icebreaker questions up your sleeve will also get you past those difficult first few moments.
Have Your Elevator Pitch Ready
How do you talk about your business to strangers? Do you have a different elevator pitch for different people? An effective elevator pitch contains three key elements – you can learn what these are and how to quite simply develop your elevator pitch in this blog: Why Your Business Needs an Elevator Pitch (and Tips to Target it to Your Audience.
You can do all the research you want about people beforehand, but establishing rapport is really how to get connected. Deploy your icebreakers and follow this rule of thumb: let the other person do most of the talking. You’ll be surprised how effective it is. Pay attention to your body language – smile, keep your eyes from straying (or glazing over), and so on. Show that you are genuinely interested in that person. Yes, you may not get what you need out of this first meeting, but your face and interest will have registered.
How you follow up depends on your goals. It might be appropriate to form a simple connection on LinkedIn, or perhaps schedule an in-office meeting to introduce your business or your colleagues further.
How Technology Can Help
Mobile apps and social media are great props when it comes to making connections.
New apps are appearing on the market every day to help connect you to the right networking events in your area (“Business Calendar Network” is one such example); others alert you to high-value people nearby based on ranking criteria that you choose (“INTRO”). You can even get an app that helps with follow-up and relationship building (“Relations Manager”).
Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can also help you affirm a connection and keep the dialog going. In fact, keeping in touch with business contacts is the main use of social networks by business people (58 percent) according to a survey by Regus, cited here in BizReport.
Seek out people on social media sites that have an interest in your industry or what you have to offer, and interact with them. Answer questions, share information, post links, and grow your network. And don’t forget to seek opportunities to take that connection offline.
The small business community is just that, a community. So be yourself, and let your natural love of what you do in business shine through. Being connected to those who are equally committed to making their ideas succeed is an infectious place to be. Try to enjoy it!
- Top 10 Tips On How To Build Your Referral Network (SCORE)
- Build Your Business Through Networking
- Networking: Whether Online or Offline Make Sure You Have a Plan
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General small business tips and tricks.