Entrepreneurs have their pick of networking events. But you can build your brand at those events, if you think strategically. Rather than focusing on the food and drink, pick a strategy and implement it.
Have a plan before you go. Figure out why you’ve chosen this event and how it will help your brand. You may be looking to build referrals, meet potential clients, find subcontractors, get spillover work from other businesses or build buzz. Maybe you’re even there to make a friend, partner or colleague look good. Maybe you want to meet 400 people in a year. Whatever it is, make sure you have a plan.
Know your weaknesses. Networking isn’t for everyone. If you know you can’t stomach networking alone, take a friend or two. Contact a few people ahead of time and say you hope to see them there. Volunteer to help at the door – it’s a great way to meet people without having to put yourself out there.
Eat before you go. Seriously. If you’re sticking close to the appie table, you’re not going to have a chance to talk. It’s fine to eat at the event, but don’t show up so hungry that the tapas table becomes homebase.
Go easy on the booze. It’s fine to have a few drinks, but getting plastered at a business event likely won’t go well. I’ve been at business events where people started doing body shots. (You can Google that on your own. I’m not posting a link!) What’s appropriate in your regular social life may well be an unforgivable faux pas in a business circle. So go easy on the alcohol, so that you can maintain control over your brand.
Smile. Introduce yourself to others. Look for other people who haven’t quite found their place. Chat with them. Take the opportunity to introduce them to other people at the event.
Be ready. When someone asks what you do for a living, make sure you can answer. It’s going to happen. It’s a rare mixer where you can go an entire evening without being asked what you do for a living.
Take a deep breath. Smile. Know that this is an opportunity to build a relationship and get the word out about what you do. This is not the time to take a belt of your Cosmo or pop a mini Greek salad skewer in your mouth. It’s your chance to make a connection.
Answer. Tell them what you do for a living. But make it about your business. Better yet, tie in the conversation so far, so that there’s more context for what you do, how you do it and what it does for people. Avoid saying things like “I work for Client X”. You’re self employed – talk about your own business and how it can help others. Sure, it can help to have an elevator pitch, but it will sound like less of a spiel if you can tie it into the conversation at hand.
Continue the conversation. Make sure it isn’t all about you. Ask about the other person. Build the conversation. Offer to introduce them to someone else in the room. Look to build connections.
Pay attention. Just like in dating, if the other person just isn’t that into you, look to end the conversation and move on. You can do so by thanking them for their conversation and saying you don’t want to dominate their time and hope to see them again. Or introduce someone else you know and look for a chance to exit. In some cases, you can just shake hands, thank them and move on. Some people like to say they’re off to get a drink or food and shake hands and move on. Pay attention to the conversation – you usually won’t have to duck out to the washroom just to get away.
Follow up. These days, it’s just as easy to send a LinkedIn invitation as it is an email. Whatever means you use to build your profile, do it diligently, within a few days of the event. Be sure to be polite and to follow up on any promises, such as to provide information or send someone a website link. Keep it light and friendly. The connections you make may surprise you – sometimes even helping you to find new clients.
What tips would you give?