The good news is that networking doesn't come easy to most people, so those other business owners who you meet at these events are often just as nervous as you are. Here are a few tips to help you break the ice:
- Set Goals - before you attend an event, think: Why am I going to this? Who am I looking to meet - potential clients, good contacts, business partners? What do I want to accomplish before the event is over?
- Prepare - all events are different and you need to know what to expect before you go. A Chamber of Commerce after work function will likely call for business attire. A weekend function may be more casual. A fund raiser may have a theme. If networking is already difficult for you, then think of how difficult it will be if you feel especially awkward for not looking like you fit in. Also, make sure you know if you need a ticket to the event and, if so, can you purchase it in advance or buy it at the door. Do you need cash or will a credit card suffice? Finally, know what you are planning to tell others about yourself and your business. Take a stack of business cards with you; that should be something you do everywhere you go.
- Smile - a big smile goes a long way in helping you approach others. Now, I'm not talking about an inappropriate, goofy smile that makes you seem overly-cheerful or juvenile, but a pleasant, warm smile that lets others know that you are someone they might want to meet.
- Mingle - approach others, whether they are standing in groups or sitting alone, and introduce yourself confidently. A strong handshake is a must. It conveys self-confidence and assertiveness. Don't spend too much time with one group, since your goal is to cover a lot of territory. Remember step #1: set your goals for the event and stick to them.
- Follow Up - after the event, you'll realize that you've come home with dozens of cards from others who were there doing the exact same thing you were doing. These people gave you their cards for a reason: they want to be acknowledged by you and, ultimately, get your business. And, while you may not need the services of all the people whose cards you attained, you may know of someone who can use those services. In either case, let the people you met know that it was a pleasure to meet them and that you will think of them the next time you require XYZ service/product. If you want to make an even greater impression, think of someone who can use that person's service or product and refer them to him/her. There is a good chance that that small effort will make you stand out above all the other people he or she met at the event, and he or she will feel inclined to return the favor.
These are just a few pointers that I've picked up over the years. There are dozens of others that I'd be happy to share with you. And, if you find that networking is so challenging that you don't want to tackle it alone, then you can always contact me and I'll help you get the ball rolling.