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All business is social. That’s why at the heart of successful business is a strong social and professional network.
If your own small enterprises, from a startup embroidery business to an at-home rhinestone design company or direct to garment printer shop, you will need to spend some time forming a circle of contacts. The returns can be worth the energy; even the smallest efforts can produce good results.
The bigger your professional network becomes and the more work you put into it, the better your chances are that you will be the first person a connection will consider when they need a product you sell.
There is an art to networking in person; at the chamber of commerce events, conferences, trade shows and the like. Some people are reluctant to walk into a room of strangers and begin to trade greetings while others always seem be the center of attention, meeting new people with ease.
As a small business owner, you don’t have the luxury to be a wallflower; you want to get out there and get in touch with a few movers and shakers. They just might be your next client!
Are you a little shy? Don’t worry; here are some no-fail networking tips that will make you into a master conversationalist:
Be on time (or a little early).
Networking events are not the place to be “fashionably late.” Even a few minutes can make an impression on other attendees. Arriving early, you will be one of the first people in the room and can create a dialogue with others before it gets too crowded.
Arrive early enough to interact with others, before other social groups begin to form.
Don’t sell, talk.
Networking is not about making the next profitable deal. Among other things, it is for establishing professional relationships. Most of all, networking is about having a good time. You can talk business, but try to hold off until someone asks you about business first.
When you do get a question about your company, be ready with an “elevator pitch,” a couple of easy-to-remember sentences about who you are, what you sell or service you provide. Remember, it is not fast-talk sales pitch, just a brief overview to provide the basics.
Keep the conversation light.
Meeting people for the first time, especially in a professional setting, can be stressful enough; starting off “heavy” by discussing controversial topics can be a real conversation killer. Begin by asking easy questions that get the ball rolling. “What brings you here today?” is one of the best.
If a clear opportunity presents itself, don’t be shy though. For example, if you’re an embroiderer and notice someone wearing some corporate logo wear, you can “I noticed your polo, where do you get your shirts embroidered?”
Show an enthusiasm.
You started your business for a reason; most likely it is because you love what you are doing. As a small businessperson, talking about your own organization is like talking about your children; you are excited to share your passion. This comes through in a conversation, and enthusiasm is contagious.
Don’t monopolize the conversation.
Are you worried at the idea of meeting new people? Many people overcompensate for shyness with incessant chatter, about themselves, their job or anything that pops into their heads. There are two habits of anyone who is successful at networking: well-developed listening skills and the ability to make the other person feel special. An uneven interaction accomplishes neither.
Use shyness to become a better listener; the fear of speaking is virtually indistinguishable from the delight of hearing other people talk about themselves—the mark of a great conversationalist. It may require some practice, but the result can be better networking skills.
Always follow up.
A true professional is a master of following up; networking events are where you can show the world that you are a real pro. Modern communications makes for easy follow up with those you meet. Email, LinkedIn and other social networks are perfect for keeping the conversation going. When making new contacts, ask about their preferred method of communication. Be prepared with a handful of note cards at your desk to send a card out immediately, for those who prefer the “old-school” touch.
Follow up with new contacts no more than 48 hours from the event, mentioning to a topic you both discussed. Thank them for their time, as well as the wonderful conversation.
There are hundreds of different ways to network at an in-person event. What are some ways that worked best for you? Let us know in the comments!
You’ll find more great business tips at the Rhinestone Blog too!
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