Now I know that focus is on growing business online – but networking is still an important part of my own business growth strategy. I talked to a prospective client today who is looking to grow his small business in a new market. One of the things we discussed was attending networking events.

He’s never been to a networking event (most of his current business comes through word of mouth) and doesn’t really know what to expect. He’s heard a bit about them from friends though, and the idea of standing up in front of a room full of people and talking clearly made him feel uncomfortable and out of his comfort zone.

I don’t know about you, but I can relate to that. The first time I stood up at a networking event I was terrified – despite 12 years of talking for a living, and even giving school assemblies to hundreds of teenagers! – and completely clueless. I had no idea what to say or how to say it, and I have to say that my performance that first time bombed.

Like everything though, it gets easier (and you get better) with practise. As you’re probably heard plenty of times, people like to do business with people. So even if you’re not that keen on making small talk with strangers, if you’re an introvert like me – or just not that comfortable in a busy room – networking can be an effective part of your strategy to grow your business.

 

So, what should you expect when you’re attending a networking event for the first time?

Time
Networking events happen at all times of the day – so you should be able to find one that suits your schedule. Personally I like breakfast meetings – the early start is worth it as it means I’ve still got the whole day ahead to get things done. But you’ll find there are lunchtime and evening events too, so you can network at a time to suit you.

Location
Large venues such as hotels and golf clubs are popular locations – which means directions and parking should be straightforward.

Cost and commitment
Most meetings will change a small fee for attending (which will usually include refreshments). This is normally between £5 and £20. While some meetings are open to anyone, others are membership groups. In a membership group, as a rule you’ll be able to go two or three times as a guest before you’ll need to make a decision.

Format
Meetings will usually start with informal chat over tea and coffee, followed by a more formal segment, including a chance for businesses to introduce themselves to the room, and often some kind of presentation or talk on a business theme.

 

5 quick tips for making your networking visit a success

Talk to people!
At the start of the meeting when people are chatting, a good host should greet you when you arrive and introduce you to people. However, if you’re feeling stuck, look out for people standing in ‘open’ pairs or groups – that is, facing outwards with a clear space for you to join in. And for anyone else who is by themselves or also looks as if they might be new!

Don’t be salesy
You’re there to meet people, learn about their businesses and start making connections. Treat the meeting as an opportunity to start forming relationships, not selling to people. Just like social media, networking is a long game and is just as much about listening as it is about talking. Be interested, ask questions and listen to the answers. And do prepare what you will say about your business in advance – don’t bore people with a rambling tale that has eyes glazing over!

Bring along your business cards
There might be an opportunity to hand your business cards out to the whole room – often they will be passed around, or you might be invited to put a few on each table. If not, wait to be asked.

Have your 60 seconds ready
The dreaded moment! It took me a long time to feel comfortable doing this, but as with most things preparation is the key. Always go to a meeting prepared with a short (1-2 minute) presentation about your business. Some events will be very structured about this and allocate everyone a specific time – often 60 seconds – in which to present. Have something ready to say, but be prepared to adapt it a little depending on the set-up.

You should state your name, the name of your business, what you do for your customers or clients, and what you are looking for (for example, a type of client, or to introduce people to a specific product).

Follow up – before you’re forgotten!
If you speak to anyone interesting, or take a business card, follow it up as soon as possible. Drop them an email; connect on LinkedIn and send them a message. Do it while they still remember who you are! If you think there’s something you could help them with, or vice versa, suggest meeting for a coffee.