Every business owner knows the importance of networking for success. After all, if you don’t make new contact, you can’t grow your potential client base and then you’re essentially dead in the water.
But not every entrepreneur and executive is a networking whiz. If you’re busy running your own small business, you may not have the time to engage in extensive networking practices or attend local business events. There is also a growing contingent of entrepreneurs who don’t have any formal academic business background, including the networking opportunities such education comes with.
If you and your business fall into this category, there’s no need to despair. It’s true networking is a crucial part of your business’s marketing strategy, but you don’t need an MBA from an Ivy-League school to be an effective networker. Here are a few general networking tips you can start using right now that can help give your organization the competitive edge it needs.
- Dress nicely
This one is so basic it almost doesn’t need to be said. First impressions count for 99.9 percent of your networking success, so make sure you’re giving yourself as much of a leg up as possible by dressing in a professional, clean-cut manner.
- Take notes
There’s no benefit to be gained from going to a networking event, meeting new people and making new business contacts, and then promptly forgetting all of the relevant information by the time you get home. Many networking events take the form of social gatherings, but don’t forget that you’re there first and foremost to do business. You may feel awkward about jotting down notes while you talk to new people, but remember that everyone is there to do the same thing. If you want to make the process even smoother, ensure you have business cards on hand that you can offer to everyone you meet – and be sure to get others’ cards as well. That way you can transcribe all the essential information to your notebook or to a spreadsheet on your computer later.
- Remember that networking isn’t sales
You may be tempted to “sell yourself” to people you meet at networking events but, perhaps counterintuitively, this isn’t doing you any favors. As Payscale reminded, networking is more an art than a science, and requires people skills and a keen eye for social cues. If you try too hard to ham-fist your sales pitch in at every opportunity, you’ll likely develop a reputation – and not the kind that you want.
- Talk about things other than work
Sure, you’re all there to meet new potential business contacts and make important connections, but networking is as much a social activity as a professional one. The key to making valuable new contacts isn’t giving your elevator pitch to everyone in the room, it’s finding common ground on which you can connect with the other attendees. In many instances, this means that conversations can – and should – move away from the “strictly business” category. Do you share a common interest with the person you’re talking to? How about rooting for the same sports team? Did you go to the same college or grow up in nearby hometowns? All of these are valid points of discussion and can add essential personality to your interactions. Keep in mind that everyone in the room will be talking about business in a similar way, so what will make you stand out to others isn’t your business proposition, but rather the ways in which you connected – or didn’t – with other attendees on a personal level.