If you want to build a successful business, you can’t try to do it all by yourself. No matter how capable and committed you are to developing your idea, there’s always something to gain by meeting and working with other people. Unfortunately, if you have a small social circle, or if you’re delving into the world of entrepreneurship for the first time, it can be intimidating to make new contacts.
That’s where networking comes in. If you can network effectively and consistently, you’ll quickly build the social circle you need to maximize your business’s chances for success.
Why Networking Is So Important
So why is professional networking such a big deal?
- Exposure. First, you’ll get the chance to get your face and company out in public. The more time you have to share your startup with other people, the more you’ll build brand awareness and familiarity, which are important if you want to thrive.
- Contacts. The real meat and potatoes of professional networking is meeting new people. With new contacts, you could find new investors, new partners, new employees, and even new clients—all of which will help your business grow.
- Knowledge. Even if you don’t meet someone who can directly help your business, you could learn a thing or two from the new people you encounter, whether it’s a helpful tip on how to get started or an anecdote that serves as a cautionary tale.
- Practice. Networking also improves your conversational skills, which are important in future networking events and in important business events, like client meetings.
Tips for Your First Networking Event
If you’re gearing up for your first networking event, you should use these tips to help you make the most of it:
- Scout the venue. Get to know the venue in advance, if you can. Figuring out where to park and enter can make things less stressful the night-of, and give you more confidence that you’re familiar with the location. You may also get a chance to meet the owners of the venue, and get some details about how the event will unfold.
- Prepare your business cards. Make sure you have plenty of business cards ready. Despite our era of advanced mobile technology, business cards are still the most common way to exchange information at events like these. Investing in durable plastic business cards, or some other unique design, can help you stand out and make a more favorable first impression, so be willing to spend a bit more money.
- Dress appropriately. Learn what the dress code is for the event, and try to match it; the common advice is to err on the side of caution, but overdressing, rather than underdressing. No matter what level of formality you try to achieve, make sure your clothes fit well and practice good hygiene. Again, this might cost you some extra money, but it’s worth it to make better first impressions.
- Set a goal. Before leaving for the event, set a firm goal for yourself. For example, you could challenge yourself to meet 10 new people at the event, or to make a pitch for your business to at least one prospect. Stick to small, measurable, and achievable goals until you feel more comfortable setting more ambitious ones.
- Practice your elevator pitch. You may not get much time with each new person you meet, so practice the elevator pitch for your business beforehand. The more comfortable you sound when delivering it, the more confident you’ll seem. Just be careful not to rehearse it so much that you sound like a robot; it still needs to sound natural.
- Bring a friend. If you’re not comfortable attending the event by yourself, consider bringing a friend. The extra company will help you feel more at ease with your surroundings, and give you a conversational partner in case things slow down. However, don’t get too comfortable; if you spend the entire event talking to your friend alone, you’ll miss the greatest benefits of networking.
- Prepare a follow-up strategy. Effective networking isn’t just about the initial meeting; it’s about the follow-up. Make sure you have some ideas for a follow-up strategy before you go in. Are you going to ask your new contacts out for coffee in the future? Are you going to connect with them on social media?
Try not to get too nervous about your first networking event. Even if you aren’t successful, you’ll have plenty more opportunities to recover—and in each of them, you’ll have more experience, which means increasing chances for you to find the success you’re seeking. Don’t give up, and keep networking even if you find many of the contacts you’re looking for.