Don't ever avoid the chance to meet new people!
If you'd rather stay at home, and watch the old boob tube, you might be missing out on opportunities that could change your life forever. No, I'm not being over dramatic. I'm completely serious! Networking events give you the opportunity to make a strong impression on people that might be willing to help you out. We all need a little extra help getting started.
As humans, we are wired to help those that have the ability to reciprocate the favor. You scratch my back--I'll scratch yours!
The theory of reciprocity is an amazingly strong human need to return favors. As long as the desire is genuine, and there is no hidden reward, there is nothing wrong with leveraging this urge to get what you want. Now you can't just walk up to someone and propose a deal right off the bat. You need to build a relationship first, and when trust is established, you can start talking business.
I attend several networking events each week. My intentions on arrival are always to meet new people, and my recent experiences have taught me a few things about networking protocol.
I narrowed down my list to five essential tactics that everyone must learn before accessing the riches associated with networking.
5 Must-Learn Networking Tactics for Small Business Owners
1. Be real!
Now is not the time to start thanking the Academy for your little golden statue. Be yourself! You don't need some weird super power to tell when someone is trying to act like they have life all figured out. Express what's bothering you. Define your problems, and those engaged in conversation will be willing to open up a little. Let down your guard, and you'll be surprised by just how many people are willing to help.
2. Don't Sell
A networking event is an opportunity to make a great first impression. If you lay the sales talk on thick, you will be avoided like the plague! Nobody comes to a networking event to be sold to. If you are invited as a presenter, then that's different. But if you just came to make new friends and connections, you can leave your invoice slips back at the office. This time is for you to share your story. Let people know you exist.
3. Listen Up
People want to be heard. So when you attend a networking event, you need to be prepared to listen. By lending a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to chew on, you are letting others know that you care. You're also being exposed to problems that you could potentially solve. Leveraging these newly learned pain points, you could launch your business into overdrive! Maybe it's a new product idea, or a much-needed service that solves a problem. Take that information, and figure out a way to use it to your advantage.
4. Engage Everyone
Don't hunt down the big fish in the crowd! He or she will be fending off leeches left and right. What you need to do is become a social butterfly. Move around to different tables and chat it up with anyone who's willing. I'm sure you've been to social events where there was no doubt who the most important person in the room was. By following the rest of the herd, you might be missing out on a great opportunity. It's usually the quiet guy in the back of the room who has the most to offer. He might be uncomfortable breaking that conversational ice, so give him a chance to share his story. You might make a connection that turns out to be your biggest client or customer yet!
5. Be Confident
Square your shoulders, lift that chin, and be prepared to kick butt and take names! Confidence sells more than knowledge. If you believe in yourself, those you speak with will have no doubt that you are the real deal. Never walk into a networking event thinking that you won't make an impact. Only you can create that WOW factor! Start by trusting in yourself, and everything else will fall into place.
Apply these five tactics, and you can bet things will start to happen. People will begin spreading the word, and your brand will start growing in popularity.
The only other advice I can give is to make your presence known quickly. Don't wait until the end to start some sort of engagement. Stand out first and be remembered forever. Hide behind your rum and Coke, and be forgotten fast!
Andy Sokolovich is the owner of small business marketing firm Bent Business Marketing. He can be reached at andy@BentBusinessMarketing.com.