How to grow your professional network

ONE thing I love to do is attend networking events – from weekly business breakfasts, to industry lunches and corporate dinners with amazing guest speakers, there really is something for everyone.

But so often I hear people complain about attending networking events – some tell me they are a complete waste of their time and others whinge later about the food or venue choice.

As someone who has been known to often attend up to twenty local events in one week (that was a busy week!) I will wholeheartedly say attending networking events has been the number one way to grow my business and secure new clients. No matter what industry you are in, they are an opportunity to meet like minded people that could ultimately become your clients, suppliers or staff!

But so you aren’t ‘wasting your time’ at these events, this week I thought I would prepare a list of quick tips to ensure you can maximise your attendance to grow your business.

Know the demographic

Ensure you know who will be attending and that the event is appropriate to you so that you’ll get the most out of it. There are so many types to choose from- for small businesses, women, young professionals and everything in between. If you aren’t sure, email the event organiser. They are usually very helpful and will make sure you are comfortable at the event.

Don’t be a spruiker

Everyone knows that the main purpose of being at a networking event is ultimately to benefit your business, but if you jump straight into sales mode as soon as you meet someone it will turn them off. Start by introducing yourself and your business but then focus on listening and finding out all about the other persons work by asking them lots of questions. That makes it easier to build a connection and see if there is an opportunity for you to refer business to them. You can also work out pretty quickly if you will be a good fit for each other professionally.

Have business cards!

I’m surprised the amount of people I meet at networking events who don’t carry them.

Offer your business card to the people you speak to and it will leave a lasting impression. Try to connect with people you’ve met in person on LinkedIn as soon as you can so you don’t forget who they are if you happen to run into them again.

Work the room

If you attend with someone you know, don’t stick to them the whole time and make yourself unapproachable to others. Break apart and talk to new people. If you come alone and don’t know anybody, speak to the first group you see. My tried and tested icebreaker usually is “Hi, my name is Jaimie and I don’t know anybody here!” Ask them to introduce you to others and they will definitely oblige!

Become a committee member

If you find a networking event that you really like and become a regular, ask if there are any spots on their committee. This is great publicity for you and your business and often provides a chance to speak in front of a big group. Keep in mind you do have to attend committee meetings and participate in planning events so if you don’t have the time or capacity, it’s best to be honest and not commit yourself if you can’t follow through as this could affect your reputation.

Attend even when you don’t feel like it!

The nights where I am incredibly tired from work and all I want to do is curl up on the lounge instead of standing at a networking event all night are usually the ones where I meet new clients! Force yourself to go- you never know what might happen or who you could meet and you’ll feel better for it.

I’ll admit, walking into a room full of strangers in an environment you don’t know is scary for even the most outgoing people. But the thing to remember is, everyone there had their first time at that networking event too! We were all once nervous newbies and nobody is there to give you a hard time, so relax and enjoy making new relationships which can grow your business!