Many small business owners look at networking as a painful task, but in reality it doesn’t have to be painful. In fact when done correctly, networking can be a great way to build lucrative business relationships and even have fun while doing it. Networking effectively requires having a game plan and helping other people. The following seven tips can aid in getting the most out of business networking functions

1. Talk to everyone everywhere you go.

Make it a point to talk to people that you don’t know everywhere that you go. This is a great way to practice your elevator pitch and listen to other people –you may be able to able to do business with someone you meet. Get in the habit of getting to know people no matter where you are.

2. Have a game plan.

For every networking event you attend, be sure to have a plan. Know exactly what you want to accomplish. Who do you want to meet and why? You can list names ex. Mr. Parker, CEO of Flower World, or list people within an industry ex. florists that buy over-sized elephant roses.

Having a plan in place eliminates wasting time. Remember you are there to be a problem solver not talk about politics or the weather. Keep conversations about business and plan to meet as many people that you can.

  • Ask the person what they do and then ask for a business card.
  • Ask open ended questions that will help you get to know them better and see how you can help them.
  • Ask them who is there ideal client?
  • Ask them who are the top 10 business account they would like to secure?

Write down important takeaways from your conversation or other things that will help you to remember them on the back of their business card. If you discover you are networking with someone that you feel you can do business with set up a breakfast or lunch appointment and move onto another person at the networking event.

3. Get to know people you don’t know.

When attending a networking event, don’t mingle with the people that you know. This is a real time waster because you already know them. The only contact you should have with current contacts is to introduce them to someone that they may be able to do business with. Agree to meet them at another time to discuss business or personal matters. Remember the purpose of any business networking function is to meet as many people that you can that you don’t know. Then you figure out if you can help them.

4. Have memorable business cards

Get creative with your business cards. By doing so you can ensure your cards will not be thrown out and you have a better chance of being remembered. Consider utilizing a unique design or think outside of the box and don’t use traditional business cards at all. Consider passing out customized water bottles or candy bars with your logo and contact information on them.

5. Become a professional listener

Earlier I mentioned it is important to act as a problem solver at networking functions. In order to be an effective problem solver you must learn to talk less and listen more. Ask open ended questions to see how you can help their business. You may be able to offer your product or services as a solution or connect them with someone else in your network that may be able to help them. Be prepared to listen.

6. Be a valuable resource to others

Whenever possible, connect old business friends with new business friends. After you have listened intently to the needs of someone else play the ‘matchmaker’ when and where appropriate. Your old business friends will appreciate opportunities to do business with warm leads making you even more valuable to them. Additionally your new business friends will appreciate your business savvy skills as well.

7. Follow up, follow up, follow up!

Following up is the most important part of the networking process. If you have agreed to email a new contact information, be sure to do it within twenty-four hours of meeting them. Also commit to following up with hand written letters and notes. Hand written notes are more thoughtful. They will not be overlooked in an email or tossed in the garbage.

The key to successful business networking is to have a plan and utilize it at every networking function. Keep in mind that the goal is to build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships. Make it a point to meet as many people that you can and then see how you can help them. If you can not help them immediately save and store their information somewhere safe for the future. You also want to talk to everyone because even if they are not a business match for you, they may be connected to someone that you would like to do business with. Always work the room spending 3 to 5 minutes with each prospect until you have connected with everyone. Save the longer conversations for follow up appointments.