For many executives and business owners, networking (or what I sometimes sarcastically call “schmoozing for dollars”) is a non-negotiable part of marketing and generating leads. When you are passionate about what you do, it can be a key way to spread the word about how your products or services can help others grow their own businesses.
If you’re an extrovert, you probably get a little jolt of adrenaline over the endless possibilities for meeting interesting new people and the challenge of persuading some of them to give you their business.
But for busy working moms, young career starters, introverts, and exhausted over-achievers, just hearing the word “networking” can make you long to curl up in a ball under your desk. It’s intimidating and draining to constantly generate productive small talk. The extra time and energy it requires for before-hours breakfasts, after-work happy hours, and coffee and lunch dates with strangers can quickly zap your enthusiasm and energy.
You can’t avoid it altogether if you’re going to grow your business (or spread your name for future opportunities), but you can make it less terrifying and exhausting.
So here are a few tips to make networking a little more comfortable:
1. If you are new to networking, start by tapping into your friends.
Ask if you can join them for one of their regular networking events. Many will be happy to bring you to places like a BNI International breakfast (which they are required to recruit for) or a networking happy hour, which are more casual and less stressful.
2. Join a Chamber of Commerce.
Attend their events, or offer to attend for your boss if the company is already a member. Chambers offer a variety of networking activities, including short early morning coffees (easy to escape from so you won’t be late for work), luncheons (there’s typically a speaker, so your schmoozing time will be limited) and after hours events (laid back and less stressful). That way you can pick and choose which ones fit best within your schedule and comfort zone. And remember—everyone is there for the same reason you are!
3. Share what you do whenever you can.
Anytime you are in a social environment with family or friends and meet someone new, tell them enthusiastically what you do. Don’t go on and on about yourself; instead, focus mostly on the company you work for and why it’s great. You never know when your aunt’s neighbor’s husband is going to be your next big account!
4. If you’re an introvert, plan ahead.
Come up with a simple way to introduce yourself and what you do and use it whenever you meet someone new. Create a short description of your company, an “elevator pitch,” so that you are not fumbling for words. This will lessen your fear and boost your confidence.
5. Scan the guest list in advance.
This goes along with the previous tip for introverts and also those whose time is limited: if you can get your hands on a list of the event attendees ahead of time, you can study it to determine who best to target. That way your time is spent wisely and you can leave sooner.
6. Questions, questions, questions.
If small talk leaves you shaking in your stilettos, just ask questions. People love to talk about themselves. Remember the five W’s from language arts class? Use them!
7. Go the extra mile.
Be helpful to the people you meet whether or not it benefits you directly. If someone is looking for a product or service other than yours and you know a great source, share it. Write it down for them on the back of your business card.
8. Follow through (this is easy, even for introverts).
Collect business cards from everyone you spend time with and send each a brief (emphasis on brief) email a week later saying you appreciate meeting them. Offer something complimentary or encouraging about their product or company. You can also use business related social media sites liked LinkedIn to connect. You’ll leave a good impression of being kind, considerate, conscientious, and interested and that might bring you to mind for a future need and possibly start a good business relationship.
Whether your new to networking or not, at least one of these eight tips is sure to help!