Giving Onsite Networking Its Due Consideration
In a boldly digital world, traditional methods still have their place in growing your business and building your brand
By Marilyn Manning
In an electronic hyper-communicated world, the “old” is new again. This is, traditional methods for growing your business, such as onsite networking, continues to be a powerful marketing strategy. While social media has significantly advanced our ability to connect globally, the “human touch” is still vital to business growth. We can most certainly connect, “Like,” and tweet across digital vehicles, but a great deal of business still often starts with a handshake. The fact remains that most of us tend to conduct business with people we know and trust, and that means meeting people in person.
Business success is highly dependent on open and positive communication. Networking, therefore, is a vital component of any business communication plan. Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to network effectively for their business. This article serves to change that by offering proven strategies to help you become a networking sage. Consider the tactics below to help you make networking positive, personable and pain-free
Removing the Intimidation Factor From Networking
To make networking as pain-free as possible, you must first remove the intimidation factor. All of us feel a certain level of stress when entering a networking event. You walk in and all eyes are upon you. This, however, can be easily avoided. Consider these tips:
- Arrive early at the event. This will immediately reduce stress, giving you time to scope out the room and get comfortable.
- Dress professionally. This means no jeans please. Wearing bright-colored clothing will help you stand out from the sea of black suits. A bright colored shirt, a captivating tie, or eye-catching accessories will get you noticed.
- Have a strategy for giving and receiving business cards. Have a “going out pocket” and a “receiving pocket” for business cards, and make sure you have plenty of your cards on you and ready to hand out. Nothing kills the moment for handing over your business card than if you have to dig deep into your purse or wallet or sift through other’s cards to find your own. Also, when you receive a card from someone that could be a great prospect, bend a corner as a reminder to get in touch with that person right away.
- Place your name tag on the right side of your chest to keep the line of sight when shaking hands. Also be sure to make eye contact and repeat the person’s name. You can also get a professionally made business nametag so you’ll look like a VIP.
Another thing to remember when networking is to make sure you are mingling with everyone. A room filled with 250 strangers is intimidating, so it’s natural to migrate to the people you already know. If this is your MO, then you’re missing the benefits of networking. Start simple and make a goal to meet five new people, and gradually increase your goal each time you go to an event. Yes, you will be introducing yourself to complete strangers and putting the ultimate spotlight on yourself, but the No. 1 thing you need to know is that nearly everyone at a networking event is nervous, so use this to your advantage. Make it a game to make meaningful contact with business professionals.
Understanding the Room
A networking event can be likened to high school. There are different cliques of people at these events, so understanding the dynamic of a room will help you to maximize your networking efforts. Consider the following tips:
- Start networking on the perimeter of the room where you will find those that are less likely to initiate a conversation. Honestly, there are usually many business owners on the perimeter, and they know they need to network and meet people, so walk up and introduce yourself to get the networking energy going.
- In the center of the room you will often find the networking pros…the extroverts of the business world that are usually congregated in groups of four or more people. Approaching these groups gives you an immediate and engaged audience to introduce yourself.
- Then you have the hosts or ambassadors, those that help run the event. These are the folks that can help make introductions. Arrive early, find these people, and let them know who you need to connect with at the event.
The Cling-On Effect
It’s strongly recommended that you avoid the cling-on effect if you can. This happens when you attend an event with someone you know or immediately search the crowd for a familiar face and then hang out with these people for the entire event. These are your cling-ons, and will limit you from meeting as many contacts as you can. Limit the amount of time you spend with your cling-ons to five minutes, or make a pack to introduce each other to other professionals. Following this tactic, you should easily be able to meet several new people by the end of the event.
How to Get Away From a Strange Stranger
How many times have you engaged in a conversation with someone who ends up talking way too much, usually about things that don’t have anything to do with business? You keep waiting for that break in the conversation, but it never comes. Sometimes you simply have to make the break from a strange stranger if the conversation is not meeting your networking goals. When this happens, it’s okay to get physical. You can simply reach out and gently touch the person’s arm to get them to stop talking. At this point, politely thank them for the conversation and let them know you need to meet other people at the event. If you can’t break away, then pick them up as your cling-on and take them with you to meet other people. The point here is to keep the networking momentum going, even if you have to carry another person for a bit.
Follow up is a Key Step
If you don’t follow up with those you meet at a networking event, you are wasting your time. Great clients aren’t going to pursue you; you must follow up. After an event, organize your business cards into three piles: Hot, Mild and No-go. Follow-up immediately with your “Hot” prospects, within 48 hours is a good goal to set (these cards should have bent corners). Follow-up with your “Mild” contacts within a week. You can follow-up with your No-go cards as well, but only after you attend to your Hot and Mild prospects. The point here is to follow-up with everyone — from Hot to No-go. Remember, even No-go’s know other people, so don’t take anyone you meet for granted. Today, people have hundreds of contacts when you consider personal networks and social media. This means that every new connection offers the potential for exponential exposure.
Ready, Set … Network!
Using these strategies for networking will make the “human touch” work for your business. Practice makes perfect, so commit to attend networking events weekly. Remember, even if you are naturally introverted or you feel that networking is not your strong suit, you can do this. If you do it regularly, you’ll likely find that the proven strategy of in-person networking can be one of your most powerful marketing tools, helping you to quickly grow your business and your brand while also expanding your client base.
Marilyn Manning is executive director of marketing strategy, communications and public relations for Payroll Vault Franchising LLC, a nationally based payroll service business. Find her at fransocial.franchise.org.