If the thought of attending a business networking event brings you out in a cold sweat, we are here to convince you with a little prep and our top tips you will soon be mingling with ease.
Business networking can take on many forms, from slick occasions with keynote speakers to sessions where participants are asked to provide a presentation about what they do.
Our own Small Business Geek networking events take a more informal approach, allowing attendees to steer the agenda.
Small Business Geek’s Liz Smith explained: “Being a micro or small business owner can be a bit lonely at times. You may not have a team around you work through issues or explore opportunities, and so our sessions give attendees the chance to pick each other’s brains and help each other. The sessions are really friendly and if you can only stay for part of it, that’s fine too.
“Every session is different and it’s exciting to see people coming back with examples of how the discussions have helped them to move their business forward.”
Before you rock up to a networking session it’s important you think carefully about what you want to achieve. This will then help you choose a group that’s right for you.
If you are just putting your toe in the water or are at the start of your small business journey, a more informal group may be the best option, whereas if you are an established business keen to mix with others at the next level, opt for a more structured group pitched at small to medium enterprises (SMEs).
Whichever event you find yourself at we have a few tips that will help you on your way. These can be equally handy if you find yourself at trade shows or other events to promote your business.
Dress for success
We’re not talking power suits and 80’s shoulder pads here! More it’s about picking an outfit that helps you to feel confident and comfortable and creates a good first impression.
A little preparation
If the session you are attending encourages participation, think about a few topics you would like to discuss before you go. If it’s a general business networking event rather than one geared to your industry, consider broad areas which others could contribute to even if they have no knowledge of what you do. Maybe you are looking to outsource your admin work and are keen to find recommendations, or you are interested in exploring social media platforms to market your brand. There are lots of ways others from completely different sectors can offer help and advice when it comes to more general topics.
Attend with a friend
If you are nervous about networking then find another small business person to go along with. Often people find it much easier to introduce someone else to a group and talk positively about their business than they do to wax lyrical about their own. Plus, if you do find yourself stuck for conversation or you can’t bring yourself to mix you have a fallback plan.
Let others speak
As a small business owner, chances are you will have a real passion for what you do. When you feel this way, it can be hard to rein yourself in when you start talking about your business! But for networking to be a success it needs to be a two-way conversation, so bear this in mind when you begin to mingle and try not to let your enthusiasm run away with you!
It’s all in the cards
Networking is great for building connections, often in areas that you might not have thought of otherwise. To make the most of any new found links make sure you have a stack of business cards with you, giving others the means to keep in touch. Plus, many larger events have prize draws where you need to put your card in the hat to have a chance to win!
Polish up your elevator pitch
As this useful article from Mind Tools explains: “An elevator pitch is a brief, persuasive speech that you use to spark interest in what your organization does... A good elevator pitch should last no longer than a short elevator ride of 20 to 30 seconds, hence the name.
“It should be interesting, memorable and succinct. It also needs to explain what makes you – or your organization, product or idea – unique.”
Having an idea of how you explain what you do is great for networking events, and so many other occasions, too. Maybe you bump into an old colleague in the street or relatives at a family gathering ask you about your venture. Being able to sum up what you do in a few sentences will make these situations a breeze and will show you really mean business.
Come up with a few conversation starters
If you go prepared you are less likely to find yourself feeling awkward or hiding away in a corner if there is an opportunity to mingle. Stuck for ideas? Then check out this blog from The Muse which brings together loads of ideas (some a little cringier than others!) for how to start a conversation.
Don’t be afraid to jot things down during the session, after all you have taken time out of your day to be there, and so you want to get the most from the event as possible. If you meet other business people you think might make good contacts then ask for their contact information or suggest you link up via social media to continue the conversation.
At Small Business Geek we love welcoming new faces to our networking events. The sessions are free and there is no need to sign up in advance – just turn up on the day!
We have two different sessions a month.
The first is at the Barn Cafe in Great Bentley on the first Friday of the month from 10am to 11.30am.
The second is at Colchester Harvester on the fourth Monday in the month from 10am to 12 noon.
Hope to see you there!