How to get the most out of networking events
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One of the most effective ways to promote your organizing business is to participate in local networking groups. If you’ve shied away from – or stopped attending – networking events because they “didn’t work” for you, I know you’ll benefit from reading these tips from William Reynolds, a self-employed freelance marketing copywriter.
Professional organizers, like most business owners, succeed or not based on who they know and how many qualified referrals to prospective clients they can get. Networking offers a fast track to establishing strategic relationships — but only if you use those opportunities for all they’re worth. Here are some tips to boost your networking ROI:
Attend more than one type of event.
Networking experts such as BNI’s Dr. Ivan Misner stress the need to attend a “strong” networking group, a “weak” networking group and a “service-oriented” group. Strong networking groups permit only one member of each profession, charge dues, and maintain strict attendance and referral requirements. Weak networking groups are more casual about their requirements, often charge nothing other than meal fees, and may not even keep a membership roster. Service-based groups are organizations such as the Lions Club or a church group that you join primarily to help your community, with networking as a secondary pursuit. A good mix of these different types of networking groups gives you a diverse base for meeting people, learning what’s happening in your town, and discovering new ways to work together.
For starters, be a listener, not a talker — ask others about their businesses, personal interests, recent networking adventures and so on. Everyone loves a captive audience, so be one! Another thing: Don’t hand someone your business card unless that person has either asked for it or already handed you his own card. It’s the difference between making a polite response and shoving unsolicited information in the person’s face. (In any case, throwing business cards all over the room only wastes the money spent on the cards, since no one has any incentive to keep or remember them without having actually talked to you.) Some of this may sound like obvious good manners, but the fact is that networking has its own “rules of the road” — so make sure you follow them.
Mixers, happy hours and holiday parties are ideal networking opportunities. Something about the availability of judiciously-consumed alcohol loosens people’s tongues and inspires friendly chat. But there’s a big difference between sipping your Bacardi Cuba Libre with care and downing so many drinks that you lose count (and you’ll be lucky if that’s all you lose). Drunkenness is not a quality most businesspeople seek in a future project collaborator, contractor or referral partner. Keep your head so that you can recall those productive conversations with crystal clarity — because you’ll want to follow up on them later.
Choose events that suit your personality type.
Shy people may feel overwhelmed by a massive networking mega-event, while natural extroverts may actually be more comfortable than they would in intimate gatherings. If you feel uncomfortable in your surroundings, you’ll communicate that discomfort to others. Think about how you run your organizing business — do you like taking center stage in your interactions with clients, or do you prefer to quietly delegate? Let your personality be your guide, and you’re sure to find plenty of networking opportunities that fit into your comfort zone.
The best way to learn about networking, for better and for worse, is to dive into it. Gain all the helpful advice you can, plan your next networking foray, and go to it. Good luck!