Small business owners have heard that one of the best ways to drum up new business is to attend networking events. It's true that these activities should be part of your prospecting efforts, but many business people find them uncomfortable or just don't know how to leverage them.
Alice Heiman, a Reno, Nevada-based sales trainer and author of Connecting Your Way to New Business, recommends these effective strategies for making the most of networking events.
1. Network with a goal in mind.
Make a plan in advance about what you want to accomplish at a networking event. Do you want to meet 10 new people? Make personal contact with the speaker? Zero in on a particular member? Decide on one realistic goal and pursue it.
2. Get someone to introduce you.
Attending an event for the first time and trying to connect with unfamiliar people can make anyone nervous. To make it easier, show up with a current member that you already know and let them take you around. Otherwise, call the head of the organization hosting the event and ask them if you could attend as someone's guest. Get in touch with that member beforehand and explain that you'd like them to introduce you to the members.
When you meet someone for the first time, focus the conversation on them and their business—then listen attentively. Look for areas of common interest. Heiman suggests these questions to break the ice: "Have you attended these meetings before?" "I am new to this group. What do you like about belonging?" "Tell me about your business? What do you enjoy most about it?"
4. Have your elevator pitch ready.
Be prepared to describe what you do in 30 seconds if someone asks. Rehearse your answer to sound natural, not scripted. "You need to say something that helps people understand what you do and engages them," Heiman says. For example: "Hi, I am Ben from ABC Bank. I make it easy for small businesses to do their banking." Follow it up with a short success story.
5. Be proactive about staying in touch.
After the event, sort through the business cards you collected and throw out any that aren't relevant. Add the others to your database. Put the name and date of the event and any notes on each card. If you promised to follow up with someone, do so promptly. Stay in touch with potential customers regularly. Sending them a pertinent article or other genuinely useful content—along with a note from you about wanting to work with them—demonstrates your interest in their success.
Following these strategies can help turn a networking event from a burden to an opportunity.
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