Effective Networking Secrets RevealedCreate connections for your small business and make new friends at the same time with these 6 networking tips.
As a small business owner, you already know that networking is critical to your success. Unfortunately, making new friends and building strategic relationships isn’t always as easy as it sounds.
“Going to networking events can be a bit awkward,” said Andrew Machota, author of “Friend Request Accepted: Connecting in a Disconnected World” and founder and CEO of New Town Connections. “Everyone is standing around wearing name tags, and you have to force yourself to go talk to new people.”
Not everyone is comfortable putting themselves out there and meeting new people. The good news is anyone can develop the skills needed to network more effectively. To help build your Rolodex (and confidence), Machota shared his top networking tips for small business owners.
Be intentional about networking
“The hardest part about making new friends is putting yourself out there,” Machota explained. “We’ve all been there, myself included. No one wants to walk into a room full of strangers and not know what to say or what to do.”
If you’re serious about expanding your business contacts and making new friends, you must be intentional about networking; but that doesn’t mean it takes a huge time investment. Even scheduling just one luncheon, breakfast or other networking event a week can exponentially increase your circle of influence.
Rethink your definition of networking
Networking doesn’t have to happen at a huge business event with hundreds of attendees, said Machota. Find places you already go and where you are comfortable to hone your networking skills.
“Start doing things you like — that’s the easiest strategy, so start there,” Machota said. “If I go to yoga class tonight, I’m probably going to have a conversation with the two people right next to me. Networking still happens. I may not exchange business cards, but I go to the same yoga class every week and see the same people — and that’s where the real relationships start.”
Ask better questions — and give better answers
When you’re making a new acquaintance, don’t give in to small talk about the weather or just ask what someone does for a living. Create a memorable connection with questions that are more likely to prompt a real conversation.
“You must build rapport with people to establish relationships,” he advised. “If you go into a conversation with an open mind, positive attitude and an arsenal of questions you’re ready to ask, then chances are you’ll have a great conversation, and you will walk away with one new contact at the very least.”
Stick to low-pressure topics, like asking where they’re from, how long they’ve lived in the area and other open-ended questions about themselves. These are more likely to put the other person at ease and kick off a conversation.
Don’t jump into a sales pitch
Even if your long-term networking goal is to build your customer base, remember that sales rarely happen in your first conversation with someone, said Machota. Jumping straight into your sales pitch is more likely to turn off a potential customer than win them over.
“Instead of doing all the talking, ask questions about them,” he said. “If I come off salesy, it’s going to turn people off. You’re going to tune out, you’re not going to pay attention, and you’re probably going to throw my business card away when you get home — so it goes nowhere.”
If you do want to talk about work, come at it from a softer angle by asking “What type of work are you in?” instead of “What do you do?” suggested Machota. This subtle change takes the judgement out of the question so it doesn’t come across as cold and insincere.
Follow up and follow through
Machota’s biggest tip for small business owners is realizing the importance of following up with contacts after the event.
“It’s pretty easy to become forgettable today. With all the distractions in our lives, we have to take a few more steps than we used to in order to grab people’s attention,” he said.
“If you collect 20 business cards at a networking event and don’t follow up, follow through and ask for that one-on-one, you’ll never get to know someone on a real level to create that relationship.”
Practice, practice, practice!
Finally, remember that becoming an effective networker requires practice — just like any area in your life you want to improve.
“Many people don’t have the skills to really network effectively, and to develop it requires practice. If you show up at one networking event once a month, that’s not really going to do anything for you. You have to perfect the craft of networking, of meeting people,” said Machota. “The more you network, the more you get used to it. Just practice.”