by Lisa Barone | Featured Contributor
It might be the one piece of advice women business owners receive the most: Network! No one can do it alone, they say. Be aggressive about seeking out networking opportunities. Introduce yourself and your business. Give a lot and ask for a little. Leverage network relationships into an opportunity for mutual success. Network, network, network!
It sounds like a no-brainer. But introducing yourself to strangers — couldn’t you anxiety-vomit just at the thought of it?
As women, we’re supposed to be good at networking. We ask inquisitive questions, we are helpful, we seek out opportunities to lift others up, and we are natural connectors – so why does the concept of being social at a business mixer bring back flashbacks of having no place to sit in the high school cafeteria?
If networking events have historically made you uneasy, here are 7 tips to overcome it.
Know Your Pitch
Even those with the strongest networking chops aren’t likely to walk away from a business mixer with a Rolodex of new clients or customers. That takes time (we’ll get to that in a moment). You are present to make an introduction. To deliver your elevator pitch – a 30-second summary of who you, what you do, and why you’re interesting – in a way that makes someone want to learn more and to continue a conversation with you. Having this pitch ready to go not only helps you prepare for the inevitable (it’s a pretty good bet someone at the event will ask you who you are), but it can also inspire inner confidence when you show up ready to start talking. Make sure to have your pitch locked down and ready to go – what are you excited about, what problem do you solve, what would someone else want to know about you? Start practicing.
Do Your Homework
The Web (especially the social Web) makes attending networking events far less nerve-wracking by allowing you to “research” the people you’ll met ahead of time. Whether it’s a public list of those who have RSVP’d, a Facebook event page with a list of those attending, or simply social media stalking, Keri Morgret of Inbound encourages networkers to get familiar with likely attendees before an in-person event. This will help you to have something to say when you meet in real life (or to identify those you Must Meet), and it will give you an opportunity to “meet” people online where making small-talk is much easier.
More than being interesting with a great elevator pitch, it’s important to also be interested in other people. Kasey Bayne of Olark encourages women to be genuinely interested in what others are doing and to look for ways to help. We all want to associate with people who are friendly, helpful, and who give more than they consume. Showing an interest in others and asking questions about them – their needs, their struggles, their interests – can also be a great way to take the pressure off yourself. Let them do the talking, while you listen and see how you may be able to be of service. The best way to earn a favor is just that – to earn it.
Find the Fringe:
The reason networking events can feel like high school is because sometimes they’re structured, well, a little like high school.
- You have your popular kids (often the speaker or those associated with the event/mixer you are attending) who get swarmed by fans or those looking to pick their brain.
- You have your loners who are there for the free food and don’t seem too interested in making small talk.
- Then you have everyone else. Those there for a reason, but maybe not the current star of the show.
Sunny Hunt, founder of Hunt Interaction, says to talk to these folks – those on the fringe of the main group. They often have great stories to tell, and the time and the interest in telling them. Vikki Fraser of HostDime encourages seeking out the shy folks to bring them into the conversation. If you can help them feel comfortable in the room, they’ll remember the gesture.
Speak to Lots of Different People:
One trap of networking events is that it’s easy to spend the whole time talking to just 1-2 people (often these are the people you came with). Try to avoid this. Focus on having brief conversations with as many different people as you can. Don’t limit the conversations you’re having, but put it at the forefront of your mind that you are there to meet people. You are there to pass out business cards, to collect business cards, and to have as many conversations with as many people as you can within the timeframe. You never know when you’ll be in a room with these folks again. Use your time wisely. Consider setting a goal for how many people you’ll introduce yourself to for the night.
Remember, Networking Is An Investment:
As has already been stated, it’s unlikely you will attend a networking event and come away with a new client or customer by morning. Relationships, regardless of their nature, take time. They require that you give more than you take, that you show value, and that you prove yourself to be someone who can be trusted. Amanda Orson shared that in 2016, she referred or retained more than $500,000 worth of business to those in her network. But those contacts weren’t ones she had met overnight. They were relationships that had been nurtured over a long period of time. If you’re in this for a quick buck or to be overly salesy, people will be able to spot it and they won’t be interested in learning more about what you offer.
Once the event is over, be sure to follow up—whether later that evening or the next morning. Reiterate that you enjoyed talking to them, say that you want to keep in touch, and include an actionable takeaway – maybe it’s plans to meet for coffee in the future or that you’re willing to offer feedback on something they have in the works. Start out by finding a way to help them, without worrying about whether this will directly impact your business.
We all know the power of networking – of linking in with others and combining resources. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to strike up a conversation and meet new people. What networking tips have served you well in your business?
Lisa Barone is Vice President of Brand at Overit, a creative marketing agency in Upstate New York. Lisa works with brands to distill and establish their voice before helping them create unified, people-first marketing strategies.
Every two weeks, Lisa pens Into & Overit, a love letter about marketing, brand, and the messy space where they intersect.