By: Joanna Hughes
While “networking” may bring to mind thoughts of making forced small talk with strangers, it is actually a powerful tool for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Successful networking not only fosters connections with customers and potential referrals, but also offers unique opportunities for professional development. A few simple practices can help you optimize your networking for best business outcomes.
Put Yourself Out There
Many small business owners fail to realize the importance of connecting with fellow entrepreneurs. Small business conferences offer ideal environments to meet other people facing similar challenges, exchange ideas and grow. Many small business conferences also provide opportunities for marketing directly to potential clients.
Investing in a trade show exhibit may yield even greater networking payoffs. At a time when electronic communication is taking over, a trade show exhibit offers the invaluable chance for a meaningful meet and greet.
Speaking of technological takeovers, don’t forget to bring along your business cards to networking events. While modern innovation is constantly presenting new ways to exchange information, there is no replacement for the face-to-face interaction that comes with passing out cards. It’s not just about delivering information; it’s also part of establishing yourself and your brand as a memorable entity.
Skip the Small Talk
Many people believe networking is a waste of time due to the amount of chitchatting that takes place. While talking about the weather or last night’s game can break the ice, it does little to advance your professional case. Before heading to a networking event, prepare an “elevator” pitch. This brief yet compelling summary should be less than one minute long and succinctly express who you are and what you do.
Focus on your strengths, edit it ruthlessly and practice in advance. The end result is a valuable marketing tool – particularly in situations when you have a brief amount of time to make a lasting impression. But keep in mind: there’s a fine line between a hard sell and a sales pitch. The best networking happens during the cultivation of an authentic relationship.
Continuing the Conversation
Networking in a vacuum is not enough. You also must follow up with new connections in a significant way — whether you work in one of the 3 business careers that are actually fun or in another area.
Social networking makes staying in touch easier than ever. While following up with a phone call or email is effective, so is simply adding a connection on Linkedin. Don’t wait too long, though: respond within 48 hours for best results and always reference part of your conversation to help identify yourself.
Networking is all about making connections – it is an integral component of small business and entrepreneurial success. Strategize before you walk in the door in order to make both beneficial contacts and a lasting impression.
Joanna Hughes writes on all subjects, ranging from lifestyle, beauty and fashion to the latest in business and technology.