Conferences: Conferences can introduce you to a wide network of people—especially if you’re able to get on the schedule as a speaker. When you speak at a conference, attendees will actively seek you out to talk about your presentation or expertise, which can help you make new connections (it’s like networking comes to you!). And if you can’t present, signing up as an attendee can also be a great opportunity to network (since most conference itineraries include built-in networking activities).
Trade shows: Trade shows are well-known for their opportunities to network, connect, and drive new business. (In fact, according to a survey from Oxford Economics, more than half of business travelers said that 5 to 20% of their company’s new customers were a direct result of their participation in trade shows.)
Professional organizations: Professional organizations can be a great way to connect with other people in your industry—including other business owners and top talent to recruit for your company.
Referral clubs: If you want your networking efforts to lead to new business, try a referral club, where members refer clients to each other’s businesses—and which can help drive a higher number of referrals than a standard professional organization. Depending on the club, they may be open to any business owners in your local area (like Rotary International), or may limit membership to one member per industry.
NOT FINDING THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITY? CREATE YOUR OWN
If you’re not finding the right opportunity to network for your business, create your own! Hosting your own event—whether that’s an in-person or virtual event—can be a great way to build out your professional contacts and help meet your business goals.
Habits That Hold Your Scaling Business Back
How to Be a Thought Leader and Win More Business
How to Create an Outstanding Workplace Culture
How to Make the Most of Business Networking (and Drive the Most Leads): Be Prepared
Just like you wouldn’t lead a board meeting or pitch a client with major potential without doing the necessary prep work, if you want to drive the best results from your networking efforts—online or off—you’ll need to prepare.
In order to make the most out of your networking opportunities, you’ll want to make sure to:
DO YOUR RESEARCH
As mentioned, you wouldn’t walk into a potential client’s office and pitch them without doing your research. The more you know about who they are, what they need and how your company can provide a solution, the better poised you are to close the deal.
It’s the same idea with networking. If you want to be a successful networker, you need to do your research—and figure out who you’re networking with, the issues they’re struggling with, and how you can provide them with some sort of support or solution.
For example, if you’re attending an industry conference, look at the attendee list and see if there are any companies there that you’d like to collaborate with. Then, figure out who is going to be representing the company at the event, connect with them on LinkedIn and come up with some talking points.
That way, when you do connect with them at the event, a) you’ll know what you want to say, and b) they’ll know you did your homework and prepared for the conversation—both of which can help you drive better outcomes from the opportunity.
Even though your goal with business networking is to grow your business, whether your efforts ultimately lead to growth all boils down to your ability to build meaningful relationships.
So instead of focusing on your end goal (whether that’s landing a new customer or getting a better deal with a vendor), focus on building those relationships.
When you’re networking in person, don’t go into the conversation thinking about what you can get from it; instead, take a genuine interest in the person you’re connecting with. Use the 80/20 rule—and spend the majority of your time listening to your new connection versus talking about yourself or your company. When it is your turn to talk, avoid aggressive sales pitches—and instead, talk about your business from a place of passion and authenticity.
Approaching networking from this place won’t necessarily lead to instant results (e.g., you’re probably not going to sell anything or get a fellow business owner to agree to a joint marketing venture). But it will build trust and rapport, and lay the foundation for a long-lasting relationship (which is where the real results come from, anyway).
Learn the Art of the Follow-up
When you connect with someone, whether online or at an in-person event, you have the opportunity to lay the foundation for a business relationship. But in order for that relationship to develop, that one conversation isn’t going to be enough—you need to stay on their radar and continue to foster the connection.
Or, in other words, you need to learn the art of the follow up.
When you meet someone at a networking event (online or offline), make sure to follow up with them in some way within 24 hours—and make sure to reference something specific about your interaction. Chances are, you’re not the only person they’ve connected with, so you may need to jog their memory of who you are and where, when and how you connected.