Last week, I hosted a webinar with Reina from Reina and Co. (she's a badass. Go check her out).
We talked about tons of topics related to getting it right when you're at in-person events, but one of the things that people don't do enough of is this:
While going to a networking event seems like something that's just "de rigeur", that you have to do as a business owner, if you're not making the most of your time at these events, then you're not getting out of them what you could be getting out of them.
Lately, I've been finding myself on both sides of the networking event aisle lately: both planning and hosting networking events and also attending them and I've picked up some good tips from the host's perspective, as well as from an attendees perspective.
Here are 5 things to do to prepare, and meet people at networking events that could be good connections down the road:
1 | Know how the event is structured
Is it small groups? Is there a program? Is it open networking? Do a little bit of research, or ask the host via email what the program is going to look like.
Open networking events can be more challenging for you to make good connections, so go into those ones with a friend or with balls of steel (because cold-approaching people that you don't know can be challenging for even the most outgoing of extroverts).
2 | Research to see who else is going
And invite other people to come with you. If there's a Facebook event invite and you can see who is "interested" or "going", this is a good way to see if it's 90% real estate agents that don't buy handmade art prints or if your PEOPLE will be there.
If not, email the organizer and find out specifically what sort of people attend networking events. If the organizer is vague or says things like "everyone is welcome!", then you know that you're going to have to be laser-focused once you get to the event to meet the right people for your business.
3 | Know what you do, not who you are
When I talk to people at networking events and ask them what they do, 98% of the time they say "Oh, I'm a photographer." or "I'm a financial planner."
Which isn't what they DO but who they ARE. Which doesn't help me, a possible client or advocate, know how to help them.
Instead, practice identifying EXACTLY what you do for your clients. For instance,
"I take professional photos of business owners running their day to day lives so that they can have gorgeous promotional images for web or print." instead of "I'm a photographer."
"I help women manage their financial lives, retirement, and savings so that they can be financially independent and provide for their families throughout their lives." instead of "I'm a financial planner."
With each of the FIRST examples, I have a better idea of who I can refer to these people. With each of the latter examples, I'm scared that they're going to try to sell me a product I don't even know if I need.
4 | Identify events with your peers vs. your clients
This is a BIGGIE! So many people attend events and only talk to others in their industry. While industry peers can be a great form of referrals, it's really important that you're identifying when you're talking to an industry peer vs. when you're talking to a potential client.
Talking to each of these people is going to have different benefits and outcomes, but if you aren't hanging out where your CLIENTS are hanging out, it's going to be a lot more difficult to get your name out there to the people that have the dollars to actually hire you.
5 | Follow up graciously
With EVERY business card you receive, I highly recommend sending the following email:
Hey there [awesome person's name],
It was so great meeting you at the [Awesome Lady Event] last night. I loved hearing about your work and why you're so passionate. Keep doing what you're doing!
I wanted to follow up to let you know that I'd like to help you in any way I can, because I believe in supporting other business owners/employees/women in general so that we can all achieve our full potential in work. What's one thing that I can do for you right now that would help you?
Looking forward to continuing the conversation. Are you going to next month's event?
[Your awesome name]
Let me tell you that if I got this email, I would be DYING to refer that person to many other people.
Follow up doesn't have to be shady or sales-y (in fact, unless the person wanted a full contract right then and there, it shouldn't be sales-y in anyway. We're nurturing relationships here people, not driving cattle).