I am a real fan of face to face networking as a business development tool to compliment your Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Myspace social media network strategy. Chambers of Commerce, local and national, and business community groups can be great places to network. But you only get out of a network what you put in.
So here are 6 tips some of these are a BGO but they are good reminders:
1. Get a list of people attending in advance, scan the list to identify people who could be useful contacts. Go with a plan. Work out what you could say to them that might get their attention or be of interest to them. I target new small business owners, especially new franchises. I always say "Welcome to town, great business idea, what made you pick that one?"
2. If you can't get a list in advance get there a little early and ask the organziser for a look at the list, identify the people who are likely to be decision makers especially new members or first times attendees. Go and make them welcome. Ask open questions to get the conversation going.
3. Take plenty of business cards and something small to write on. OK, OK, OK so no one would go networking without business cards right? Wrong, also take enough! I always have a little pocket note pad with me (about 2" x 3" nice and discreet) for when the contact I want to get info on has not bought cards, has run out or, as happened this week, I am given a 3rd party to contact.
4. Don't be afraid to move on, even when you have found a good contact and you want to exploit the opportunity you need to make more contacts so does the other person! They won't thank your for keeping them talking and reducing THEIR networking time.
5. Don't blatantly sell or inadvertently badger and pester, that's not what networking is for. Make contacts sell later. Yes sow seeds, mention ideas, give out (brief) information but no hard sells.
6. Follow up regardless. No contact is wasted, everyone WILL know someone who can use what you sell, even if they can't. So its only courtesy and it keeps you in their thoughts (and database) to send a quick email to EVERYONE you meet "I was pleased to have the opportunity to learn more about your business at the network event, I look forward to meeting you again, in the meantime here are my contact details".
People buy from people, NOTHING beats face to face networking as a component in your marketing mix and it gets you off that keyboard for a couple of hours too! There is a lot more I could add about networking but remember you only get out what you put in.