7 tips for strategic networking

Summer is almost here! This is the time of year you’ll notice more and more announcements for franchise, trade shows and networking events.

In that regard, I had a chance to speak with Leigh Mitchell – President and Founder of Women in Biz Network, about some tips and tricks for any start-up business. Check out the expert advice and bask in the golden tips that have helped make Leigh successful:

  • Tip 1: Free vs. Paid Events
    There are many events you may wish to attend that can range from free to hundreds of dollars. As you look carefully into each event, ensure that you review the agenda, the speakers and the scheduling carefully. When it comes to networking events, you want to attend quality events that will not waste your time or money. Events you may wish to avoid are those that make unrealistic promises such as “Grow your business by 100k in 1 month.” In this day and age, you want to ensure you obtain value along with practical information/guidance that you can put to use immediately.
  • Tip 2: Mind Your Time
    Find out who will be in attendance at the event: will it be starts-ups, franchises, entrepreneurs? Find out if this will be a good use of your time. If there is a main speaker and there are questions being asked, listen carefully. If you have a solution to a question being asked, approach that person after the event is finished and introduce yourself and your service/product. If you are going to approach someone you heard ask a question with an offer to help be sure it isn’t salesy or awkward. Not all events are worth your time and not all events will have the target market you’re searching for. Ensure you do your homework about potential attendees.
  • Tip 3: Be Authentic
    While it is important to have a set of questions in your mind to get your conversation started in a networking environment, you don’t want to come across as rehearsed. Many people have rehearsed their “60-second” pitch and polished it well. When you are authentic, you gain trust. Those who trust you will want to get to know you and your business. This entails having a sense of your emotional intelligence when speaking with individuals. Learn to read body language. Speak at length about your business; however, be sure to take time to listen to those you meet.
  • Tip 4: Be Strategic (business card, booth etc.)
    When attending a networking event, do not give your business card to anyone and everyone. Be specific: who are you interested in meeting? What key connections do you need today to take your business to next level? The main individuals you may be looking out for include potential clients, suppliers, partners and/or investors. Filter the individuals you meet. Do not believe you always need a trade booth – remember: less is more when you are starting your business.
  • Tip 5: Follow Up
    While many folks are looking to make that right connection, it’s always wise to “date before you marry.” Often, many people want to follow up quickly and have a “coffee” to see how you both can make a business connection. Be cautious with your time. Perhaps you may have an office or other space where an individual can visit you. Do not jeopardize your time: if an individual visits your location, you can manage the expectation. Networking is about building business relationships over time.
  • Tip 6: Make it Easy
    As you attend a few networking events, you will begin to meet a variety of business owners and other individuals. Find a tool that can help you manage those you meet. A couple of great tools recommended by Leigh are: www.YouCanBook.Me and www.AgileCRM.com. There are many resources on the internet that make it easy to manage your contacts. Find what is reasonable in terms of cost vs. the value you will get out of it.
  • Tip 7: Connect with Your Competitors
    More often than not, we avoid speaking with our direct competitors because we feel we are striving to access the same target market. However, work with your competitors. Although you may have similarities, there will be areas where you easily excel with your strengths and areas that your competitor may have resources to assist you. Share the network pool. Collaborate with your competitor and avoid the instinct to steer clear, as this can create surprising opportunities. We all have our niches that we cover well.

As always, be professional and have social media platforms that connect with your customers as well as your business colleagues. Ensure you have a LinkedIn profile, with a professional headshot. If you do not have a photo, people may shy away from connecting with you – social media is about sharing yourself.

Making the right connections takes time. Keep your eyes wide open and your ears attentive, to ensure you do not miss the right business opportunity.

About Leigh Mitchell

Leigh Mitchell is a passionate educator, speaker and social marketer with 20 years of marketing and community development experience. Her career has led her to successfully work with major brands such as GM Canada, Microsoft Canada, TELUS, Johnson Johnson, Maple Leaf Foods, TD Canada Trust, Staples Canada and Random House. Leigh has been featured on CBC Radio, Canadian Living Magazine, The Globe and Mail, and the Toronto Star, and has been a featured speaker at the #SocialforGood Conference, Blissdom Canada, The Wellness Business Summit. She has also served as a judge for UPS and Microsoft Small Business Contests.

If you’d like to connect with Leigh Mitchell, click here.