Two of the most common inquiries I get these days are actually the same question:
What was the most valuable thing you did when you first launched your business? and
What are your tips for making the most of networking events?
If you’re wondering how these can possibly be the same question, the answer is this: When I first started my business, the most valuable thing I did was make the most of free networking events! I went in with goals and a game plan every time, and because of that, I was able to generate work relatively quickly.
So what were my goals, and how did I set a game plan? That’s what I hope to share with you today. And if your question is how to find free networking events, scroll to the end of this post!
When you’re first starting out, what you need most is usually enough revenue to keep going and to maintain the belief that you CAN do this. So when you go to networking events, you have to keep that in mind—that you need “leads” for revenue. If you go to an event and don’t connect with even one person, then you wasted your time.
It’s important to know that leads can come from any connection, any conversation, and therefore you shouldn’t put too much pressure on your interactions; it’s just important to make sure you have interactions.
The old gentleman you approach because he seems the least intimidating option may turn out to be the chairman of the event you’re attending, and he may know someone you should meet.
The woman who looks nothing like your ideal client may have a niece who is in the market for what you sell.
The stranger who at first seems like competition might be looking for a collaborator, business partner, or just someone to take off some of the load when they have too much work on their hands.
And leads don’t always manifest same-day. When I first started, only every 1 in 6 leads paid off soon after I made them. It took about two years to transition to 1 in 6 leads never works out (meaning 5 out of 6 do). So keep your expectations in check.
If you think you can do that, then you’re ready for my 3 networking tips!
Tip #1 - Wear something people will notice.
One of the fastest ways to get other people to talk to you first is to give them a reason to do so—one that is low-pressure and easy. One of the most socially normal ways to start conversation is to compliment another person on what they’re wearing.
When you wear a cool hat, brightly colored jacket, a flower in your hair, a T-shirt with a superhero emblem or band name or funny saying like “Coffee Coffee Coffee,” then you invite others to say something to you in a low-pressure way.
Once they’ve opened the door, you can reach out your hand and say, “Thanks! I’m April. I don’t think we’ve met yet.” And the conversation can flow naturally from there!
Tip #2 - Take your business card game to a whole new level.
Historically, the practice of exchanging business cards goes something like this: “Here, let me give you a card.” Then… nothing happens after that.
You want to avoid this. It’s like throwing money to the wind to have your cards professionally printed, only to hand them out and wait for them to wind up in the waste basket.
So when you go to events, make sure you have a pen handy, and whenever you hand out your card, do several things in rapid succession:
Ask for the other person’s card, too. This will allow you to follow up if they don’t.
Before you give your card up, write something on it for the other person—a coupon code, or a keyword to remind them about your conversation, or your personal cell number if it doesn’t already appear on your card. Make the person you’re talking to feel important.
When you receive their card, write something on it for yourself that will remind you what you want to write if and when you need to follow up. This will also show the other person that they’re important—and you’re serious about making this connection last.
Stay tuned. I’ve got more on business cards coming your way soon!
Tip #3 - Take selfies with people you meet.
I got this tip from the great Matthew Kimberley, marketing extraordinaire. And it might be for extroverts only, so I’ll share a bonus tip below if you’re too shy for this one!
Most people at networking events (a) have the best intentions to take photos and then totally forget, or (b) take terrible photos at events that do nothing for their social strategy.
You can do everyone around you a favor by becoming an unofficial Instagram photographer for the event you’re attending. Every time you meet someone new, ask if you can take a selfie with them. If this feels weird, add, “If it’s not on social media, it never really happened, right?” This will usually cause the other person to laugh and agree.
As soon as you have a good shot, say, “What’s your username? I’ll tag you.” Then tag the person, the venue, and the event if it has its own Instagram account; if it doesn’t hashtag the name of the event.
This will usually lead to a few new followers, and followers are leads!
This one is safe for introverts!
Whenever anyone asks what you do, be sure to state what you are or want to be specifically and in full, even if you just launched yesterday or this is your side-hustle rather than your full-time gig.
So many people out there today are “photographers,” “coaches,” “bloggers,” "brand experts,” “designers,” “musicians,” and so on. The way to distinguish yourself—to separate yourself from the amateurs—is to signal to the person talking to you that you’ve already found your niche.
“I’m a business coach for women in their twenties who own sustainable brands.”
“I’m a maternity and newborn photographer. I work with families between Cape Cod and Nantucket.”
“I design lead-gen webpages for construction and building companies.”
You also do yourself a favor by giving the person across from you some guidelines as to what kind of people they know who may need your services:
“Would an organic greenhouse count as a sustainable brand? My sister-in-law has one, and she’s been looking for a coach.”
“My cousin just had her first and she’s been looking for a newborn photographer!”
“My grandfather owns a construction business and his website is really old and dated and not very good. I should have him give you a call.”
Finally, by telling people confidently what you do, or want to do full-time, you circumvent the fatal mistake of apologizing for or defending the fact that you don’t have a lot of work yet!
Was this helpful? If so, pin this post so you can refer to it later! And I’d love for you to share it with a friend on Facebook. These tips can really change your networking game for the better, and everyone should know about them!
Looking for free or cheap local networking opportunities? Check out my two favorites, Creative Mornings and Rising Tide. These large organizations have chapters is hundreds of cities, and they helped me launch my business with success.