Networking: Have You Come Full Circle?
Years ago, the idea of networking brought to mind stuffy business suits, too many cocktails, lots of artificial smiles and polite nodding. Then came the internet, allowing people to network from safety, tucked away behind their keyboard. With a sigh of relief, networkers gained newfound confidence and began mingling with almost anyone. The pressure to get out and attend face-to-face events diminished.
But there’s still something to be said for personal connections, and today, successful entrepreneurs are realizing that good, old fashioned meetings are still an important part of the recipe.
If you’ve spent years cultivating a strong presence on social media, don’t panic – social networking is, and will continue to be, an important part of your overall marketing campaign. But if it’s been a while since you’ve gone out and actively met with your prospects, it might be time to see what’s out there.
Where do I go?
Finding a networking group you are comfortable with is key to success. If you’re a one-woman operation based in the suburbs, heading into the city to attend a crowded, high profile event might not give you the confidence boost that good networking requires. To find an event that’s right for you:
- Ask colleagues in your area if they belong to any groups.
- Run a search for networking groups in your town and nearby towns.
- Look for a local meeting of BNI International, your Chamber of Commerce, or the Rotary Club.
- Check with your library, which often hosts job seekers groups, or knows of in-town organizations.
Should I pay up front?
Most networking groups work on a yearly membership basis, and annual fees can range from $50 to $500. Before you start writing checks, ask if you can attend an initial meeting without paying the fee; most groups are happy to let you sample the waters. Or, look for pay-as-you-go organizations, in which you pay at the door for each event you go to.
Once you’ve found a group you like, go ahead and pay the membership fee. It’s tax deductible, probably includes some marketing perks, and may help keep you motivated to get to periodic meetings.
Do I need a stuffy suit?
Each group has it’s own character; some keep up a business front, others like to be more casual. With much of the working world adopting business casual dress, it’s likely that your networking group will lean toward casual.
If you’re worried about what to wear:
- Take a clue from the time of day the meeting is held: a 5PM event will attract people dressed from work; a weekend event is more likely to be casual.
- Go middle road: Leave your faded jeans at home, but don’t pull out a suit.
- Ask: If there’s a contact name, go ahead and ask what typical dress is.
What else do I need?
Bring a big stack of business cards; most people won’t remember your business name, and jotting it on the back of a napkin doesn’t portray you as a prepared businessperson. Also, give some thought ahead of time as to how you’ll introduce yourself and describe your business; it’s almost certain someone will ask, so have your elevator pitch ready to go.
Okay, I’ll go; what do I do when I get there?
If it’s been ages – or maybe never – since you’ve attended a networking event, it can seem daunting. But the good news is that other people are there to network, too. That means that initially, you can let them do the talking, while you observe and get your bearings. Listen while people introduce themselves to you, and take tips from them. When it’s your turn, say as much, or as little, as you feel comfortable with.
If you’re fortunate enough not to be bothered by nerves, go ahead and approach different people at the event. Give out your card, talk about your business, and chat about the weather or sports.
After the allotted time for mingling and refreshments, there may be a formal meeting or speaker, so you can settle in to learn something new about your business.
Entrepreneurs today are lucky; attending live networking events isn’t the only way to spread your word. But keeping up with some form of face-to-face client seeking has many benefits. People are more likely to hire someone that they’ve met and liked. Going out to meetings can break up the isolation that tends to accompany freelancing. And hearing from others in the business, and listening to yourself talk about your own successful business, is sure to send you home rejuvenated and inspired.
So, have you come full circle when it comes to networking?