Ask anyone who has been in business for a considerable amount of time, and they’ll tell you that there are a thousand different ways to be successful. However, there are common habits that persist among those who excel. One commonality is being an effective networker who is able to prepare for an event, work a room and follow up on leads.
It’s easy to see why. Life is about building and maintaining relationships, and it could take only a few influential introductions to get your business moving in a better direction. Just like any marketing activity, networking has a bigger effect over time: The more people you know, the more business opportunities will arise.
In order to truly benefit from networking opportunities, however, you need to be prepared. Several members of the ECommerce Partners team recently attended Linkshare Symposium East, an affiliate marketing event geared to building relationships between publishers and advertisers. Here are a few things we did in preparation for, and after the event:
1. Schedule meetings. It pays to have a game plan when you’re facing a room full of potential clients. Do as much research before the event as possible. Try to get your hands on a list of attendees, and organize which contacts are most important to you. After you’ve created a prioritized list of people you wish to speak with, try and schedule meetings ahead of time, so you can be sure to get some face-time. Keep in mind, popular individuals will have little time and many distractions, so try to schedule meetings with them early in the day.
2. Come ready to work the room. You don’t have to shake every single hand in the room, but you should be prepared to make some new contacts… not to mention a good impression. That means having business cards as well as a pen and paper handy whenever you might need them. You should always go the extra mile to prepare more rather than less. For example, have your appointment book or Blackberry handy to schedule follow-up calls on-site. Also think about current and relevant topics to discuss that are related to your field.
3. Don’t be afraid to mingle. Don’t be that person at the event who seems to be doing everything in their power to avoid human contact. Remember that the point of a networking event is networking; people expect that you’re going to want to meet them, pass out your card and participate in all kinds of conversations so don’t hesitate to jump in.
4. Be a person, not just a marketer. Participating in networking events is about developing relationships, not blanketing the room with promotional materials and sales pitches. With that in mind, it’s okay to lighten up and stray beyond normal business conversations. You might not want to talk about sports or the weather for too long, but a good conversation makes you a lot more memorable in your potential client’s mind and helps to build that personal connection.
5. Follow up early and often. The best introduction at a trade show is a waste if you don’t follow up shortly thereafter. Impressions can be strong, but are usually short-lived, so don’t count on your prospect’s memory if weeks or months go by. Take the initiative and follow up on a good conversation by sending an email or a LinkedIn request. This keeps the relationship moving forward rather than pressing the reset-button the next time you see someone. At the same time, you should definitely add your new acquaintance to your contact management system, so you can be reminded to touch base with them every so often if you haven’t already set a firm appointment for the future.
Networking events are an essential way to meet new potential clients or business partners and to expand your professional circle. To get the most out of them, however, it isn’t enough to just show up – you have to be prepared to make the most of every introduction and follow up afterward.