Networking events are like the marmite of the business world.

Some people love them and indeed thrive on them, attending as many events as they can because they just love meeting new people and making those all important contacts.

While others break out in hives at the mere mention of networking and will only drag themselves out once in a while to ‘get out there’ before hiding themselves away again for the next few months.

I actually enjoy networking. Now I know what I’m doing and that really most of the other attendees are just as nervous about the whole thing as I am, it’s become easier and an essential part of my marketing strategy.

So, I wanted to share with you my top tips for making the most out of any business networking event, and what I’ve found has worked well for me so far.

Pick the right networking event for you

There are a lot of networking groups out there.

Some are very corporate and formal where you have to attend every week, pay an annual membership plus additional meetings costs and you tend to have to commit to making regular referrals, etc.

These groups can work very well for certain professions, particularly accounting, legal, insurance, trades, etc. but can be tricky to manage the additional work it creates on top of your existing business commitments, particularly if you’re a sole trader or freelancer.

Other groups are far more relaxed and host quarterly events, even virtual online networking, that don’t require the same amount of time and energy but are just as good for meeting new people, making those valuable contacts and getting your business noticed.

I’d suggest seeing what’s available in your area and trying a mix of different events and networking groups to see what you enjoy, but here are a few questions you should certainly be asking yourself after each event:

  • Did I get what I wanted out of the event?
  • Can I commit to the time and cost of joining this regular group? (if applicable)
  • Can the people at that event introduce me to my target audience?
  • Was it an enjoyable atmosphere?

Decide what you want to get out of the networking event before you go

How successful any networking is, is all down to what you wanted to achieve, and that means deciding what you hope to get out of the event before you attend.

This can vary from meeting x number of people to asking for specific introductions to certain businesses that you want to work with. Your objective is personal to you and your business, but it should be in line with your overall marketing strategy.

But don’t be that person that walks around the room saying “Hello, I sell sports cars, you look like you need a new car you should come to my showroom tomorrow for a test drive, enjoy the event, goodbye.”

The heavy-handed sales tactics and agenda driven focus don’t go down well when it comes to networking. Networking is all about building up personal relationships with people that refer you business or introduce you to people that can.

But only after the trust has been developed, and they know you’re not going to let their clients and contacts down. So focus on getting to know people, offering value and establishing yourself as an authority in your field, and you’ll find those objectives will naturally be met.

Scope out the other attendees in advance

When there’s a room full of people at a busy networking event, it can be difficult to know who to talk to. It’s a good idea if the event is advertised on social media to scope out who has put themselves down as ‘going’ to see what they do and if they’d be a good contact for you.

Don’t dismiss anyone that isn’t a natural fit for your business though.

Remember it’s not who’s in the room that’s important when it comes to networking but who they know. The freelancer specialising in Facebook Ads might not interest you if you’re an electrician, but they are highly likely to know a lot of business owners who will probably need you at some point for PAT testing, urgent repairs or fitting out new premises.

Prepare your elevator pitch and know what you want to say

Not all networking events require an elevator pitch – a 30-60 second short introduction on who you are, how you help businesses through what you do and what you’re looking for. But, it is worth creating one anyway – it’s a great way to focus on your message and what you want to say to the other attendees.

If you’re not great at small talk, try to think of some open questions you can ask. It can be something fun like ‘Are you more of an expresso or latte kind of girl/guy?’ or straight to the point ‘How can the people here help you with your business?’

It’s also worth considering your answers to those kinds of questions in advance, so you’re not caught on the spot!

It’s all about the follow-up!

You’ll meet a lot of people, be passed a lot of business cards and will probably go home feeling quite frazzled – which means the majority of other attendees will too.

So make sure you follow up as soon as you can so you don’t miss any opportunities. A quick, personalised e-mail to the people you want to develop relationships with will do the trick especially if you promised them something at the event, or want to arrange a 1-1 meeting.

And be sure to follow up on that follow up, if you don’t hear back in a week or so don’t be afraid to send another message, or reach out on social media.

Those are my top tips for getting the most out of a business networking event. I hope you found them useful and that they’ll make the next event you attend a little less scary and a whole lot more successful for you.