Networking Done Right: Simple Steps to Expand Your Sphere of Influence

Meeting new people and getting your message across to potential clients is essential to growing any business.

Personal contacts made at meetings of your chamber of commerce or other business and professional groups, as well as at parties and other social events, are one of the best ways to expand your network of contacts.

To optimize the time you spend at business gatherings:

  • Arrive on time. It’s easy to start conversations with early arrivals since people will not have formed different groups as of yet. Then move on to others as they join the gathering.
  • Always remember to bring your business cards. However, you should not try to hand them out to everyone you meet. If you feel you have made a connection, offer your card. Also, use your smart phone to scan and store cards you pick up after each event.
  • To make the most of first contacts, always have a clear, brief “elevator speech” memorized that sums up what your business does and what it offers clients. Practice ahead of time so you can provide a convincing summary in 30-45 seconds. Also, be sure to customize your introduction depending on who you are talking to and what their perceived needs are.
  • If you find yourself in a group of unfamiliar people, don’t wait for someone to talk to you. There are any number of ways to initiate contact. Walk up to a person, say hello and ask what brings them to the event. To enter a group, simply ask, “Do you mind if I join you?”
  • After meeting someone, ask a question about his/her company, job or time spent in your community. Listen to what people have to say and don’t try to dominate a conversation. Sometimes, you might make a personal comment, about a tie, a pin or some other item to start a conversation. Share your own experiences.
  • If someone is not very interesting or not a potential prospect, tell him/her that meeting them was a pleasure, excuse yourself and move on.
  • If asked a question about your business, remember your “elevator speech.” Stress what makes your enterprise outstanding and a good business partner. Don’t go overboard and launch into a long sales pitch – which can put people off. Be yourself and make sure you are part of a conversation, not delivering a speech. Remember to read to their body language and change up your pitch accordingly.
  • Working the room: This depends on the size of the group and the nature of the event. If you are at a gathering where you don’t know many people, try to limit your conversations to 5 to 10 minutes or so before you move on. This is not a marathon, and you do not need to meet everyone at a large event. Remember that if you are able to make a few good contacts at a meeting, that’s a win.
  • Meetings can be fun. There are certain to be some interesting people at each event.
  • Follow up on the first contacts you find interesting. Emails – and even hand-written notes – are a good way to say you were happy to meet someone and look forward to getting together in the future.

Also, don’t forget that the Internet and social networking offer you another dimension for making and maintain new contacts and telling people (and other businesses) what you have to offer.

You can set up your own business website or blog, join online groups like LinkedIn, Google +, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others, and post news, questions and comments on these sites.

Be sure to connect your offline networking with your online social media presence. In this case, after you meet someone at an event, connect with them in social media to nurture and keep the relationship alive.

Networking is vital to building your prospect base and advancing your business interests, so have fun, be yourself, be prepared, be outgoing and follow-up to maximize the value of your networking efforts.


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