As an entrepreneur, networking is a necessary activity that can make you or break you. It can be a key to your success, if you meet the right person, capture their interest, and somehow finagle your business card into their wallet. It can also be the key to your demise, if you meet the right person, but avoid/ignore the opportunity to introduce yourself or you proceed to stalk them until you have a PPO with your name on it.
I remember attending my first networking event at the awkward (well, it was for me) age of 21. I’d always been the shy chick who stood in a corner and kept to herself at any type of social event. I can even admit that 12 years later, I am still the shy chick who stands in the corner keeping to herself. I’m sure that is a therapy session waiting to happen, but I digress.
Networking opportunities are presented to you daily, whether it is a casual conversation with another customer at Starbucks, chatting with someone in a Facebook group or being invited to a networking event. I don’t consider myself an expert at networking, but I am willing to share some networking “Do’s and Don’ts” that I’ve learned over the years.
Introduction – Introduce yourself and offer a firm handshake. Don’t tell the person your life story and do not try to crush their hand when shaking it.
Business Cards – Always carry your business card with you. If you speak to someone that you may want to contact later, offer to exchange business cards. If you are at a networking event, you may even want to carry flyers or some sort of promotional item to share with certain people.
Body Language and Attitude – Stand straight, be attentive to the conversation. Do not fold your arms across your chest or tap your foot impatiently. Try to be relaxed and natural.
Follow-up – Put those business cards to use! Shoot the person an email a few days after meeting just to let them know that they are on your radar. Do not contact them at the moment that you need something from them.
Research – If you are attending a networking event, make sure it is targeted towards individuals who fall into a category that could benefit your business. Hey, if you’re a butcher, you don’t want to attend a PETA event.
Recreate yourself – Be yourself! Don’t try to be someone that you think the person you are talking to would like to network with. Remember, you are YOUR brand.
Awkward topics – Discussions on Obamacare or Miley Cyrus twerking at the VMAs should definitely not happen. I would stay away from any discussions regarding politics, religion, race, sex, or you current personal problems. Talk about topics such as your interests/hobbies, the weather, or how your 4-year-old decided to use your bedroom wall as her canvas.
Over promote – Of course, you want to mention your business, but do not force the topic on the person that you are talking to. Promoting yourself too much will more than likely be a turn-off to the other person. Mention your company and move on, unless the person would like to know more.
Drink too much – Self explanatory. You dancing on top of a bar at the end of the night is not the impression that you want to leave with a potential customer or business partner. Nurse that one glass of wine or cognac for the night and keep a clear head.
Stalk – There is a big difference between being persistent and stalking. You have to remember, that you are not his/her priority. Give them time to respond to your phone call or e-mail. If they don’t respond after a few times, move on. You never know, you may still hear from them in the future.
Bottom line – be yourself and represent your brand well. Take advantage of networking events around your city (just take a moment to Google these events). Arm yourself with business cards (if you’re on a budget, try vistaprint.com) and make yourself known!