There’s a popular saying in business that I’m sure you’ve heard before. “It’s not about what you know, but who you know.”
This business mantra is particularly important to entrepreneurs. To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to make good connections with others in order to grow their business. These important connections are made through business networking.
But business networking is hard. Especially for a mom with kids at home. You need to find local business networking events, secure a babysitter that doesn’t flake out (and boy, this one can be the difficult part) and show up ready to connect.
Then, you have to talk to people. As an introvert, it’s the talking to people part always makes me nervous.
Although I understand that business networking is important to growing my business, it’s the piece of entrepreneurship that I avoid. As much as possible. I will come up with every excuse not to go. That was fine in Virginia. I didn’t really fit into the small business community any way. I was just too small.
But when we recently moved, I suddenly found myself surrounded by a multitude of small business networking groups to join. It was as if owning a small business was a thing outside a major urban area.
Suddenly, it was harder to hide under the covers here. I started hearing voices saying: The family is going to be fine. It’s time you got out of the house. I am sure they are very nice.
Yeah, right. Fortunately, one event did peak my interest. It was a discussion by the owner and CEO of our local co-working space. The same space I am hoping to join soon (if I stop coming up with excuses). She had a fascinating biography and I really wanted to meet her.
After securing a babysitter, all I had to do was drive downtown and show up. And you know what, it went great. Turns out this networking thing isn’t that hard after all.
I met some new contacts, learned great business start up tips and felt connected to the difficult journey that Anne went on as a working mom.
Most importantly, I suddenly felt a part of a business community. Not something I have felt in the six year journey of running my stationery shop. I am actually looking forward to my next event.
Are you weary of starting your business networking journey too? I completely understand. It can be so intimidating. Here are some tips to help make your first business networking meeting successful.
Know why you are going
Before committing to your first business networking event, know what your purpose is in the first place. What is your goal for attending the event.
Do you want to meet other business owners in the community? Grow your business? Make new contacts? Why are you going to take the time and attend this meeting in the first place?
By understanding your reasons for going to the event, it makes it easier to focus on what you’re trying to accomplish by attending. It also makes it easier to book the babysitter and get out the door. I will drag my feet if I don’t know exactly what I’m trying to get out of a networking event.
Have your elevator pitch ready
You know what your business is all about, but, remember, no one else does. Not yet, at least. Before going to the event, write a powerful elevator pitch and memorize it. Practice delivering it to the mirror or your kids. Get feedback from friends. Work on not stuttering or feeling nervous.
Your elevator pitch will tell the other business owners that you meet what you do and how you can help them. In just a few words. A positive elevator pitch is the key to building those business connections. So practice it. A lot.
Prepare to speak, even if you might not
This was something that I wasn’t ready for. I thought I would go to the meeting, sit in the back, introduce myself to a couple of people sitting next to me and listen to the talk. Until Anne asked everyone to introduce themselves. Standing up. In a microphone. Yeah, right.
I did okay, but wished I had practiced my elevator speech a bit more before going. I certainly needed some more confidence about my business. To prevent a similar thing from happening to you, practice your elevator speech before you leave. Your kids’ stuffed buddies make a great audience. And they don’t judge.
No matter what, just be prepared to say a few words. You never know who you might inspire when you speak up.
Bring plenty of business cards
I always make sure I grab a pile of business cards before heading out the door wherever we go. You never know when you’ll meet a potential business contact at the playground, a playdate or school drop off line that is interested in what you do or you can help with your service.
When it comes to business networking, be sure to have a stack of cards ready to go. Don’t have a business card design yet? No worries. You can find plenty of business card designs on Creative Market or Vistaprint for a quick and easy solution. (Plus, Vistaprint printing deals are amazing.)
A quick note about that stack of business cards. Don’t just throw them in your purse and run out the door (yes, I’m very guilty of this one). They get all scattered in your purse and you won’t be able to find them when you need them.
Look more organized by carrying your cards in a business card holder. Who doesn’t want to whisk out of card from a pretty leather or metal holder. A snazzy card holder can make you look and feel more professional too.
Make a networking minimum
Before heading into the meeting, come up with a networking goal of the number of people you want to meet that night. This will keep you moving around the room and making introductions, instead of getting stuck just talking to one person.
Remember it’s business networking for a reason – to meet new people and make connections. When creating your goal, choose a number that seems attainable. For example, I wanted to meet two people at the networking meeting I went to. I ended up speaking with five. I was thrilled and thought the evening was quite successful.
If you are an old pro at business networking meetings, choose a number that is bigger than the one from your last event. This will help you grow (connections and networking skills).
Sit next to people
I know we’re all guilty on this one. It seems to be human tendency to sit alone and in the far back corner.
I noticed this one right when I walked into the meeting space. Most people were sitting by themselves and silent. This is a networking event. It is all about meeting people. Sitting alone doesn’t accomplish this.
Remember, that the expectation to engage with others is on you. Not the other person. You shouldn’t expect people to sit next to you and start up a conversation.
Instead of picking a spot that is all by yourself, choose a seat next to someone else. Be the person who makes the introduction. Your networking and connection making will grow exponentially.
Ask a Question
One of the other challenges I gave myself that evening was to ask a question at the end. If you aren’t good at coming up with questions on the spot, prepare a few before going to the meeting. By asking an intelligent and interesting question, you present yourself as a knowledgeable business person (even if you are just getting started as an entrepreneur).
Meet the speaker
One of my goals for the evening was meeting Anne Kirby. She is a fantastic speaker and has a beautiful business story to tell. I couldn’t wait to meet her in person. Whoever is speaking at your event, make sure you speak to them after their presentation is finished. Introduce yourself, tell them about your business (cue elevator pitch) and thank them for speaking with your group. Many speakers donate their time to small business groups as part of their service to the community. It is important to say thank you for all of the information they’ve provided.
If you enjoyed the meeting and want to attend another business networking event (which you should), find out when the group’s next event will be. Add it to your calendar, so you can arrange childcare in advance. Also, find out information about a Facebook Group or other online networking tools they might offer in the interim between meetings. These online tools will give you a chance to introduce yourself to the group, add to the discussion and become a familiar face.
Following up with your new contacts
Although you can meet a lot of new people at these meetings, not all of them will be helpful to your business. But you might meet one or two that can lead you in a new direction.
Follow up with these people within a few days of the networking event. Connect with them on social media and Linked In. Send them an email to tell them what a pleasure it was to meet them. You can even try to schedule a follow up coffee or let them know you look forward to seeing them at the next event.
However you decide to continue the connection, don’t wait too long to seal a future relationship. Our social world is quite fleeting. People fly in and out of it all of the time. If you want to be someone they’ll remember, follow up sooner rather than later. It will pay off in relationship building in the end.
I found my first business networking meeting quite an adventure. I was surprised how much I enjoyed meeting new people. It was also a wonderful change to listening to someone speak in person. My “business networking” usually involves me watching a Ted Talk or You Tube video and my kids shouting in the background.
By actually going to a real networking meeting, I was able to focus on the speaker and receive real time feedback. These are things that I wouldn’t have gotten if I’d stayed at home.
If you haven’t tried a business networking meeting yet, I recommend finding one in your community. Look into your local small business networking groups (Meetup is a great place to find them). Score, a non-profit group supporting small businesses, is also a wonderful resource for starting your networking journey.
I know that after staying at home with the kids or working all day, attending an actual meeting or event can seem overwhelming. It took me years to actually take the leap and go. If you don’t see yourself going to a meeting, consider signing up for a local business class. Paying money might make you really attend. And a class is a little less intimidating since you won’t have to speak. You can just listen and take notes.
Most importantly start surrounding yourself with people that are more successful in business than you. As nice as it is to be the smartest person in the room, it also means that your potential for growing has been capped. By surrounding yourself with more successful people, you can learn more faster and build your confidence level.
Here’s to building your business network and meeting your goals. I know you can do it!