Networking is the lifeblood of most businesses. Getting your name out there and building relationships are keys to any successful business, regardless of your industry.
Networking groups are the most obvious way to find other professionals and prospective clients, but they’re not the end-all-be-all. Instead of waiting for the next mixer, turn everyday encounters into networking opportunities with these simple ideas.
Grab Business Cards for a Party
Parties are the perfect place to network, especially if you won’t know a lot of people there. It’s also the best kind of networking because everyone is relaxed and ready to talk. But—did you grab any business cards on the way out of the house? Probably not, because you wouldn’t think to do so for such a casual event.
However, how many times has someone said to you: “Oh, that sounds awesome! I’ll get in touch with you on Monday – do you have a card?” While most of us can now connect via social networks, a business card shows that you’re not only ready for the question, but that you take your business seriously. As Janet Peischel, owner of Top of Mind marketing, suggests, this is less about connecting and more about making a great first impression:
“An attractive, well-designed business card reinforces your personal brand, helps make a favorable first impression and sets you apart … More importantly, if you’re sharing it with someone with whom you genuinely want to follow up, that card has important contact information that they can reference. You never want to make it hard for someone to get in touch with you.”
If you know you’ll forget your business cards at home, keep reserves stashed in various places, like your car, your wallet or purse. Just remember to keep your stock full, so you have one to pull out when someone asks.
While this is valuable for any small business owner, it’s especially valuable for those offering every day services and consumer products that a wide range of people are more likely to need. An example is a caterer, dog groomer, handyman services or house cleaning.
Be “Elevator Ready” at Every Moment
Your elevator pitch is that 1- to 3-minute speech that concisely sums up what you do, how you do it, and how it benefits others. When someone says, “What do you do?” you respond with your elevator pitch, which makes you look both professional and clear on what value you provide.
If this is a totally new concept to you, step one is creating your own. If you’re not sure where to start, use this helpful guide. If you already have one, practice until you find a flow, and then use the meeting of someone new to practice whenever possible. Think: while making conversation with another small business owner, when meeting a new neighbor, or at dinner with a new friend.
Many experts recommend that you also have a targeted statement, which is a 1- to 2-sentence statement that you give every time you meet someone new. For example:
“Hi, my name is Sarah, I’m the owner of Sarah’s Online Marketing, an agency for small businesses looking to expand their business.”
This may be more appropriate for quick interactions, like in line at the grocery store, while your elevator pitch is ideal at a friend’s picnic.
The Ideal Small Business: Turn events like this into a networking opportunity if you’re a local business owner. Many people prefer to shop within their community, and this is your chance to remind them that you’d love their business.
Show Your Business Skills During Competitive Events
Competitive events are a great way to show your best negotiation and risk-taking skills in a casual environment. For example, your weekly poker game is a great opportunity for this:
"Betting in poker is much like negotiating. You need to determine what is the maximum amount of chips that you can get for your current hand. If you bet too much then your 'customer' (the other players on the table) will walk away from the deal. If you don't bet enough chips, the other player will call but you will not have made as much money from your hand as possible,” suggests Mats Johnson, Executive Director for a global poker brand.
The way you play says a lot about your negotiation skills, not to mention, your ability to strategize and take risks, all of which are important business owner traits.
Another great example is a weekly softball league game, where you can show how you handle risk, loss and success. For example, being the person that always steals the base says a lot about your personality as a small business owner.
The Ideal Small Business: Showing your skills, like at a poker or softball game, is ideal for small businesses that manage money, investments or stocks. You need to be strategic and smart, and you can show off both of those skills in a competitive environment.
Remember that you don’t need to be at an official networking event to meet and impress potential clients. Standing in line at the grocery store, meeting people at a concert, or just attending a friend’s party are all opportunities to introduce yourself and your business—if you remember. Don’t forget business cards to make a great first impression and remember: your weekly poker game can be worth a lot more than the pot in the middle.
About the Author
Jessica Thiefels is a social media coach and organic marketing consultant. She’s been writing for 10 years and you can find her work on more than 500 websites worldwide, including Virgin, Forbes, Business2Community, Score.org and more. Follow her on Twitter @JThiefels and connect on LinkedIn.