Women networking at an entreprenista networking event for women

Business networking is one of the best ways for an entrepreneur (woman or not) to get out there in the world and start making solid connections. And while networking can be an extremely effective, potentially lucrative, marketing strategy – there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

Here are seven simple-yet-crucial guidelines for getting the most out of your networking experiences.

1.      Know why you’re there

As with anything in business, you should always begin with the end in mind. Before you attend any networking function, it’s important to determine your purpose. Is it to meet new clients? Is it to connect with potential joint venture partners? Is it to promote your speaking availability? Whatever the reason, just make sure you’re clear on why you’re going and who you’d like to meet.

2.      Be the true you

As the saying goes: People do business with people they like. Always stay true to your personality, represent your business honestly, and build genuine relationships with your fellow networkers. No matter how fantastic your product or service is, or how great you really are, it won’t matter one bit if others feel you may have something to hide. Just be yourself. Authenticity will set you apart and leave a positive impression, which will encourage people to do business with you instead of your competitors.

3.      Dress to impress

This may seem counter to what I just said about being yourself, but this one is actually about putting your best foot forward. Like it or not, your appearance will make a statement. That statement can either be, “I’m confident, professional, and I’m someone you want to work with”, or it can say, “I didn’t put forth any effort because I don’t really care what you think of me, and this may or may not be how I run my business.” Need I say more?

4.      Branch out

One of the easiest things to do at networking function is spend the whole time chatting up people you already know. Now, if your intention for the event is to reconnect with those people, that’s fine. But if you’re looking to meet new people, then you’re going to need to branch out a bit. Step outside of your comfort zone and start up a conversation with someone you’ve never met before. There are a ton of great lead-ins, especially with other women. You could start with a genuine compliment, such as “That’s a beautiful necklace – where did you get it?” or “I love your shoes! Those are amazing!” Or, you could walk right up to someone and say, “Hi. I’m Jane Doe, and my business is XYZ. What do you do?” It may be a little daunting at first, but just remember – everyone is there because they WANT to meet new people, so don’t be shy!

5.      Listen more than you talk

Have you ever met someone new – at a party, in the grocery store, at the office – and they did nothing but talk nonstop about themselves? How “likeable” did that make them? When networking, your mission should be to listen more, talk less. Ask questions, and find out as much as possible about the other person. People love to talk about themselves, especially when it’s obvious the other person is interested. When they open up to you, it helps create a connection that often leads to a solid relationship. Good networking relationships lead to trust, and trust leads to business.

6.      Be respectful

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a networking event and witnessed people doing and saying things that are downright rude. So here’s my advice: err on the side of caution. If it’s questionable, don’t do it. If you think it might offend someone, don’t say it. Stop and think about your actions before they damage your credibility and reputation. Here are a few biggies that you should never do:

  • Don’t stand with your arms crossed. Such a closed off look will send a negative message, and will discourage people from approaching you. Instead, stand with open body language and a smile on your face.
  • Don’t shove your business card at someone, rattle off why they should hire you, and then rush off to do the same thing to the next person
  • Don’t add people to your email list without asking their permission first. Just because there’s an email address on their business card, it doesn’t give you the right to harvest it and then spam them.
  • Don’t lie, embellish, or stretch the truth. Best to be honest and upfront at all times or you risk being caught and ruining your credibility and reputation.
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol at an event. While it’s okay to have a drink or two, there is such a thing as having too much fun at a networking event. Remember at all times that you’re representing your business, and always maintain your sobriety.

7.      Be a follow up queen

One of the most important elements to successful networking, and the one that is most overlooked, is following up with the contacts you’ve made. Bring a small notebook with you to take notes – record who was interested in what, the names of potential referral partners, and any other information you gleaned from your conversations. Within a day or two, go through your cards and notes and then do the following things:

  • Search for and connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google +.
  • Send them a personal email letting them know how much you enjoyed meeting them, and encourage them to let you know how you can support them.
  • If it makes sense to connect further, pick up the phone and suggest that the two of you meet up for coffee to continue getting to know each other. (use this as a relationship-builder, NOT to sell them something.)

Did I miss anything? Are there more crucial keys to successful networking? What do you do to maximize your networking experiences? Share your thoughts with the Entreprenista community below.

Photo credit: Cindy Lund Photography