Networking events have somehow developed a bit of an unfortunate reputation in recent years.

Some people believe it’s going to involve an awful lot of wafting around, doing their best to be confident and extroverted, and exchanging business cards with as many people as possible.

All in the vague hope that at some point in the not-too-distant future, fantastic business opportunities will come knocking on their door.

This is not proper networking.

People don’t like being “networked.” They don’t want to meet someone and know that there’s an immediate expectation of “I’m only talking to you because I want to sell you something.”

Believe it or not, networking is actually not about sales, it’s about meeting people, making connections and building relationships. Networking events are the perfect places to meet people in a “non-salesy” environment.

So don’t sell. Meet and greet, ask questions and get to know people. If you do meet someone who appears to be your ideal client, ask if you can give them your business card. Then follow up with them a few days later to see if there’s any potential business there.

How to get the most out of networking events:

Networking is probably one of the most important type of marketing you will ever do. You wouldn’t think about NOT marketing your business on social media, would you?

It wouldn’t occur to you to cancel your email newsletter campaign or not hand out those flyers. So why would you not go to a networking event?

Sure, something may crop up at the office that’s deemed to be urgent, but it’s as important to your business that you make the effort to regularly attend networking events as it is to run social media ads or send out emails. 

Business networking events are, quite simply, the holy grail of professional contact making.

No other opportunity comes close to offering the chance to socialise with hundreds of people with the sole purpose of getting to know each other and (hopefully) find mutually beneficial opportunities. And of course, you need to go to these events regularly – the idea being that you see the same people on a semi-regular basis and build a relationship. In this way, you may end up not only selling your business to the people you meet at the networking event, but to all their clients too.

So, here’s how to make the most of networking: 

  • Set a monthly/annual budget for networking – just as you would for any other form of marketing.
  • Select the events you want to attend and diarise them, then schedule other commitments around them. Balancing networking with other types of lead generation activities is a great way to compare ROI.
  • Don’t attend every event out there. Be selective – choose those most likely to not only put you in front of like-minded people, but also help you connect with your target audience that may not necessarily be in the room. Attend with the mindset of helping others, before helping yourself.
  • When you meet someone new, don’t think “what can I sell them?” but rather, “how can I help them?” Remember you’re there to create new relationships. Networking is the first step of a long walk – don’t rush.
  • Don’t sell. We’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again. You’re there to meet people and gather information. Tell people what you do if they ask, but stop short of trying to sell your product or service.
  • People love talking about themselves, so ask lots of questions about who they are and what they do. This is a great way to develop rapport – and to find out if they’re someone worth doing business with!

At the end of the day, despite the rampant advances of digital technology and our penchant for connecting with people digitally rather than in person, we are still human beings, and we still value that all-important human connection.

So instead of nixing the networking, embrace it! Treat networking events as the important marketing tools they really are, and you’ll soon reap the rewards.