You may believe you have the dream team and an incredible ability to go the extra mile.
Truth is, in the commercial world, this means very little if your target market is unaware of your existence.
So, what are your options? Luckily, there are many and many experts for you to follow or seek advice from, from SEO optimisation to social media. However, not so many will give you the facts and advice about face-to-face events around you and your local area, these regular opportunities to promote your business directly to an audience. Here are 6 simple and free tips to maximise your investment, whether it be simply your valued time or actual hard cash.
1) DO YOUR RESEARCH AND FIND LOCAL 'NETWORKING' EVENTS
Easy one to start with. Not every event will be classed as strictly 'networking' focussed, but consider always that any direct face-to-face contact opportunity is a chance to network and why go a take on the world when your local area is untapped? You cannot attend if you do not know about the events happening both in your local area and potentially further afield but relevant to your industry. In my particular case, the international business consulting company I own is based in Kent, south-east UK. Within a short radius of my offices, I quickly discovered a number of opportunities, here are 5 to get you started:
- Weekly or fortnightly business minded networking groups, (think BNI or BoB). They vary in size, location, cost, time requirements and tend to be based around Morning gatherings
- Weekly after hours gatherings, in my case a good example would be the local Chamber of Commerce organises these (Invicta CoC). Coffee or a drink. Informal but well attended.
- Non market relevant (to your business) seminars. The increasingly popular social media (Zoe Cairns is a particularly in demand and appreciated speaker / financial planning/ SEO optimisation. The event theme in itself is not always the main attraction for you as an individual. In some cases, it clearly states this is an opportunity to listen and interact with someone deemed as inspirational, from business, politics, sports for instance. Consider who else may be attending and any social interaction opportunities.
- Relevant market based seminars. For me Export themed events are perfect. Do I want to learn about export? No. I consult about it. Attendees however, will be my target audience, plus you never know I may learn something new too and, why not, present such a seminar myself!
- Local Trade Shows. You will have the opportunity to communicate with exhibitors and visitors alike. These can be free or very low cost and easily discovered online. Why not consider exhibiting yourself in time? Do your research.
2) ASK TO ATTEND AND PREPARE AN OPEN MIND
So, there are a few events that are coming up.
Next task, contact the organiser. Explain who you are, what stage your business is at, what you would hope to gain and what you can offer. Find out the specifics of the event or gathering and that person's role and influence within the event.
In each of the cases above, the reality you have to accept is that you will be in demand. They all rely on having attendees, whether in the form of membership, paying for tickets, paying to speak (I know!) or exhibiting.
Keeping this is mind, prepare to go and see for yourself and prepare your financial and time commitment limits. In the case of networking breakfast groups these can be costly and a commitment to attend but many members swear by the level of business this has generated. Some offer cheaper (if any) joining fees and breakfast cost. You and only you can judge whether they are suitable. Committing too quickly could be a mistake, however do not overdo the circuit as you will very quickly become recognised and ignored. Little extra tip, expect to be sold to, regularly, remember they ultimately rely on your cash after all!
3) PITCH PREPARATION IS KEY
The big day is nearly here. First chance to attend this event. Lots of questions here and only you will have the answers.
- What do you expect your new contacts to remember after the meeting?
- What is your specific offering in terms of product or service?
- Have you looked into the background and business type of other attendees?
- Have you practised to the point of comfortably expressing yourself?
- Are you succinct enough? Hugely important one here, considered the 7 second pitch as favoured by expert Andrew Priestley. Invariably there will be many attendees, plenty of business cards handed out, will everyone remember you?
- Also consider whether your business card reflect the message you have given?
- At a Trade Show, will your audience have something concrete (it can be a pen, leaflet, memory stick, as appropriate) to take away with them. For free.
- How will you connect with them after the event?
4) DO NOT ALIENATE POTENTIAL BUSINESS PARTNERS
You could cause your business more harm than good without consideration of a few important factors.
- Dress accordingly to the audience and the message you want to convey, not just the place you are attending next. Whether you are a builder or a business consultant, if you want to highlight your professionalism, your clothes should reflect this. It may seem strange, in particular for more manual lead businesses, but when in doubt dress UP, not down. For a man, if you decide to wear a tie, for instance, it is always easy to swiftly remove if you feel overdressed.
- Smile. A friendly, approachable person will reflect positively on the offering the company has to offer. A real smile, accompanied with good eye contact will break down barriers. Consider your handshake, but to be fair, if you cannot figure that one out on your own you will have stopped reading a long time ago!
- Be polite. Avoid using any inappropriate language, in particular swearing. Professional and considered language works. If you are speaking English and your audience does not have your level, consider avoiding too many local expressions or examples.
- Consider your audience and avoid antagonistic remarks. During one such event, an attendee managed to offend at least 20% of the audience simply by starting off with 'put your hands up if you are proud of being British'. Yes, 20% were non-British. Oops. Racism, sexism, any form of inappropriate content should be avoided. Not to be done in business. Big no no!
- Promote yourself, your business, your offering. By all means, it is the point. However, do not criticise any competition you may have. First of all it bring their potential offering to your audience's mind. It will also make you look less professional. You should have enough of your own USP to highlight!
5) MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
Are you familiar with the saying 'the early bird catches the worm'? Well, this is incredibly appropriate to face-to-face networking. Arriving early and leaving late will allow you to maximise your time. You are there anyway, so you may as well connect with as many people as possible. Also, you are far more likely to have the opportunity to develop your ideas and make a lasting impression. The people you are connecting with will almost inevitably be as busy as you are, so this is your opportunity. Yes, of course, arranging to have a further chat, 1-2-1, coffee is great. But lay out the general structure, so you both know you would get something out of a future contact, not just a nice coffee!
At a Trade Show, if you are exhibiting, do not under any circumstances spend your time chatting to colleagues, employees, bosses. Not the right context and a simple waste of time.
If you are visiting, make sure to visit as many of the trade stands as possible, find out what they do first. After all, they have paid to be there. Then make sure you describe your business.
In an open environment, say a boardroom style sit down meeting, make the most of opportunities to contribute. Even if you have not had the chance to talk directly to someone, your contribution may be the encouragement they need to contact you or refer to you at a later date.
6) FOLLOW UP ANY LEADS
Sounds simple enough. Anyone you have taken the business card, leaflet or any other info from should be contacted. Within a week. In person. No random emails to a massive mailing list.
Consider that your audience will have met a number of other people in the same session. They may even take part in two or more within a week of meeting you. I would estimate this can quickly reach the level in which human brains cannot retain all information. Without a follow-up, you will be forgotten. And quite frankly, you deserve to be.
Use social media to make contact with your new connections. LinkedIn and Twitter in particular are quite important. Whenever a new contact looks at my profile, well, I have some sense of pride and believe it is logical. Connecting on Facebook...I do not think so. Unless you become extremely good friends instantly. LinkedIn for business. Facebook for friends.
Finally, make sure you take the time to thank the person who invited you or allowed you to attend in the first place. Manners do not cost anything after all!
Little extra note...
I really hope you enjoyed this article and found elements useful. Of course, there are many more tips to be had. In particular how to manage face-to-face in an international arena, which is a subject Link Export Consulting specialises in. Throughout my career, I have found that business is done between people and finding the appropriate events to meet new connections has been useful. All views expressed are mine. Feel free to comment and visit my site for further information.