Do you think face to face business networking is something best left in the stone ages? If so, you’re probably missing out on valuable opportunities to connect with potential partners, influencers and even customers. After all, no amount of digital marketing compares to eye contact and a firm handshake.
The problem is that most people go about business networking completely wrong, and in some cases, create a bad name for themselves in the process. But business networking done right can truly set apart novice business owners from seasoned hustlers.
Here are five commandments from expert business networkers, to help you go from schmo to pro in no time.
Commandment #1: Create a strategy before you network.
It might sound obvious, but just like any other marketing channel, you need to create a strategy before you attend networking opportunities. If you go into it blind, you’ll end up with a fist full of business cards and nary an idea what to do with them.
What are you hoping to gain from networking? Is your goal to boost your business visibility, improve your business reputation, meet potential business partners? Thinking about this beforehand can help you determine who you want to meet, why you want to meet them and the best way to direct the conversation.
Lauren Wilkison, founder of marketing agency, CSC Interactive, and a business networking guru says, “If you don’t have a vision, you can end up wasting a lot of time networking, with very little gain. At minimum, you should be strategic about the types of networking events you attend and have an understanding of the types of people you’ll meet there.”
Commandment #2: Focus on listening, not speaking
Newsflash: people like to talk about themselves. Which leaves you with two options when you network; compete with them for talk time, or shut up and listen. By listening, you set yourself apart from the crowd and people will find you to be more likeable and more memorable.
As an added bonus, by listening you’ll actually get to learn about the person you’re talking to, which can help you determine whether or not it’s someone that would be worthwhile to continue a business relationship with.
Vanni Banducci, founder of Idea Tailors and host of a networking group in California says, “The goal of networking is to get the other person to open up. One of the joys of being an effective networker is being able to open up others and hear what they are passionate about.”
Commandment #3: Ditch the pitch!
If your ultimate goal for business networking is to make one-off sales, then you’re better off staying home. No one likes being pitched, and that’s a surefire way for your business card to end up in the garbage can.
This might sound like a novel idea, but you should treat the people you meet at networking functions…like people! The premise behind networking should be to build relationships with other people in your niche or in your local business community; not to make a quick buck.
If someone asks you about your business, product or service, then by all means talk about it, but for the love of networking, resist going into a full-on sales pitch.
“Don’t go with the mindset of I’m going to find business today. Instead, go with a determination to enhance others networks by making strong connections. This mentality will set you apart from many at the event. And I guarantee, if you go with that mindset business will come and you will not be disappointed,” says James Rosas, founder of At Revenue and an expert on executive networking.
Commandment #4: Provide something of value
Instead of wondering how the people around you can help you, ask yourself how you can be of value to them. Not only will this shift the conversation and make you more memorable, but it can also help you gain influence among the networking group.
If you’re able to prove yourself by offering something of value to your business peers, it helps you establish credibility among the group and it also gives you leverage.
Studies show that people are far more likely to do something for someone who has already done a favor for them, and in business this can be to your advantage. It’s called the rule of reciprocity and it’s something smart networkers have been doing for a long time.
Commandment #5: Followup smarter
So you’ve gone to the business event, collected dozens of business cards and met a few people who have similar goals as you do. Now what? Now it’s time to followup and focus on furthering the business relationship.
By all means, don’t reach out to everyone you meet at networking events. The harsh reality is, some of them aren’t a good fit as a partner or business contact.
But once you narrow down your list to people you actually want to form business relationships with, send them an email or give them a quick phone call. Let them know you were glad to meet them, and invite them to have coffee or attend another business function with you.
This will give you an opportunity to find out more about them and decide how you might be able to help each other. The sad reality is, most people attend networking events and never followup with a single soul. Don’t be one of those people.
Pro Tip: Consider hosting your own event.
Have you already mastered the basic commandments of business networking? Then by all means, don’t stop there. If you really want to set yourself apart from the masses and have even more control over the business conversation, you should consider hosting your own business event.
Alexander Kostin, a business networking advocate and marketing director for Better Collective suggests, “By hosting your own event, not only do you get to control the topic and the guest list, but more importantly you establish yourself as a leader. Think back to the last event you went to. Everyone wants to meet the event host, or the keynote speaker because they have influence. By hosting your own event, you become that influential person.”
When it comes to business, the currency of influence can never be overstated. By mastering the art of business networking, you stand to gain valuable ideas, business contacts and influence. And over time, all of those things equate to cold hard cash.