Networking events have become commonplace in today's business world.
But not all entrepreneurs agree about their effectiveness as a connecting resource. Although some business leaders consistently leverage the contacts they make at networking events, others are left feeling like their participation was a big waste of time.
The key to successful networking is to establish contacts that over time can lead to two-way referral partnerships. Whether it's a networking mixer, a luncheon, or even a speed networking venue, the purpose of the event is simply to make first contacts – not to mine the other person's Rolodex or hard drive.
To make the most of your next networking opportunity, consider these five business networking tips.
#1 Be prepared to make connections
When you go to a networking event, your goal is clear: To make as many connections with as many different people as you possibly can. At a large event, you won't have time to adequately follow up with everyone you meet, but by increasing the size of your contact base you create a larger pool of candidates for follow-up relationship building.
#2 Ask questions
Hands down, the biggest mistake most people make at networking events is the assumption that it's all about them. If you spend all your time talking about yourself, you'll miss the opportunity to demonstrate your interest in the people with whom you're trying to connect. Make a habit of asking questions – lots of them – at every networking event you attend.
#3 Further other people's goals
It sounds counter-intuitive, but the best way to achieve your business networking goals at a networking event is to help other people achieve theirs. By helping other people make important industry connections, even when there isn't anything in it for you, you communicate the idea that you are a truly worthy referral partner, making it easier for your contacts to say yes to a longer and deeper networking relationship.
#4 Write it down
You won't remember a fraction of the information you glean at a networking event. Business cards help with names, but other info goes in one ear and out the other. Carry a small notepad with you and make notes about your conversations when it's convenient.
#5 Conduct timely follow-up
Remember that conversation you had with that guy at the networking event you attended six months ago? Neither does he. Unless you conduct timely follow-up, all the time and effort you spent at the networking event will be wasted. Although an unannounced visit to a contact's office the next day is probably a little too eager, be diligent about following up with key contacts within a week or two of the event.