Business Networking In the Real World - How To Do It The Right Way

Business networking is without doubt an excellent way of making profitable contacts in your local area and even further afield. However, it's also a bit of a mine-field in terms of things that can go wrong and severely damage your reputation. With that in mind, I wanted to write a post with a few networking tips that will hopefully help you navigate the pitfalls and make sure that you handle these events as well as can possibly be.

Here goes.

Business Networking

Time-keeping And Personal Appearance

This almost goes without saying, although just so we're covering off all of the basics it has to be said - make sure that you arrive on time and that when you do you look professional and presentable.

Nothing screams 'I don't care about myself, my business or you' better than turning up late to a networking meeting with half of your dinner splattered all over your suit trousers. Go the extra mile to make sure you're not late and that you are well turned out when you arrive to meet your new contacts.

First Impressions Count - Don't Underestimate This Constant

You only have one chance to make a good first impression - this is extremely valuable advice when it comes to business networking that is worth heeding. While this certainly includes time keeping and personal appearance as mentioned above, it also includes more finer points, such as:

  • Body language - this is very important and can say a lot about you. If you first meet someone with your hands in your pockets and staring at the ground, you're not exactly going to inspire confidence. However, meet them standing up straight with an outstretched hand and you're onto something
  • Eye contact - it's important to look your new contact in the eye, but not for too long. It's a very fine line between too little and too much here - a few seconds is probably a good time to shoot for
  • Your words - obviously, what you say is extremely important too. Here, you want to make sure you sound confident and assured, have a great elevator pitch at hand and also that you are ready to listen and engage with your new contact. People like to be listened to and understood - this goes a long way to building rapport.

Engagement And Manner

Do you plan on going to your networking meetings and shying away in the corner until it's over? Or, do you plan on completely dominating the evening so that all of the attendees know just how awesome you are? If you plan on either of these, you're probably doomed to failure.

The middle way is best here. You want to be confident but not dominating, and you want to give others the space to express themselves without being too passive. If you go into these meetings ready to listen mostly and to talk about yourself when appropriate, you'll more than likely get a lot out of your networking experience.

Be The Facilitator, Not A Pushy Salesperson

Although it's very tempting - and very easy - to fire off a sales pitch about what you your business does, there's no better way to bore and annoy your fellow networkers. Instead, it's a much better idea to try and position yourself as someone who is a facilitator rather than a salesperson. Again, this will go a long way to building trust and rapport.

For example, you might want to consider the following types of things to think about:

  • How can I help my fellow networkers, even if it doesn't directly benefit my own business?
  • Do I have existing contacts that can help new contacts with their problems?
  • Am I really listening to what the other person is saying, or am I just waiting for an opportunity to pitch my own business?
Also, here is a post on using questioning techniques to build professional relationships that you might find useful.

Making Sure They Remember You

No, this doesn't mean you need to be overly gregarious or that you have to thrust yourself onto everyone who crosses your path. It simply means that you want to be memorable. There are many ways in which you can do this - here are a few examples:

  • Firstly, make sure you wear your name badge :-) 
  • Work on developing an engaging elevator pitch that will etch itself into your new contacts memory
  • Dress with individual style
  • Make your business cards stand out from the rest - look around for some unique designs

Following Up For Best Results

Making sure that people remember you at networking events is only half the battle really. Without doubt, one of the best ways you can make the most of your networking efforts is to make sure you follow up with new contacts in a timely manner - especially the ones you have specifically agreed to call or meet up with.

In this way, networking is similar to exhibiting at trade shows - it's all well and good going to all the hassle of making a new contact, but you absolutely have to follow up or all of your efforts will have gone to waste.

Here are a few things that will make this easier:

  • Collect business cards/digital versions
  • Arrange follow-up meeting/calls with key people
  • Book a slot in your calendar to remind you to send follow up emails/make calls
  • Enter all of your new contact details in your address book or contact management system as soon as you practically can so that you don't lose anything

Bringing The Digital World To Your Networking Events

Just because this is a 'real world' meeting, it doesn't mean you can't add value to it with your digital assets. Here are a couple of examples of how you can do this at your next business networking meeting, using your business card as the basis:

  • Have a QR code on the back of your business card that links to an e-book or whitepaper you have available for download online - this one is great for the beginnings of a lead nurturing process
  • Have links/QR codes to your social networking platforms on your business card
  • Even better - don't only use a physical business card. In addition, have a digitally based version that you can send to new contacts' smartphones containing all of your key information

In Sum - How To Succeed With Business Networking

Here is the round-up of how you can succeed with business networking:

  • Be on time and make sure you look presentable
  • Make the best first impression you can - you won't get another shot
  • Learn how to walk the fine line between being too passive and too dominant
  • Try to help people where you can - don't shove your service or product down their throats
  • Try to be memorable - your fellow networkers will have a lot of new faces to remember
  • Make sure you follow up promptly and as agreed
  • Bring your digital properties with you - they can be very handy as you begin to nurture your new relationships

I hope that helps, although let me know on Twitter (link below) if you have any questions or anything to add.

Thanks for reading,

By Alan MacDougall

Got a nagging marketing question? Ask me here.

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Revenue Builder is a small business marketing strategy advice blog, written to help small business owners and startups maximise sales revenue.
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