I'm constantly invited to business-related networking events and its so hard to say no. But I often do, and you should to. For entrepreneurs time is money, and time spent networking without results is just like tossing money out the window. After years of going to more events than I can count, I finally learned to network smarter. These days I go to far fewer events than I used to and I have much greater returns on the investment of my time and energy. I learned that the most important part of networking is the "work" part. How hard you work before and after each networking opportunity makes the difference in how useful it will be for your business—it certainly has been for mine. So far this year I've attended just three events specifically designed for networking (out of at least 40 invitations), plus two meetings of an invitation-only women's business group I'm a member of. The outcome has been phenomenal: this year I secured my largest corporate client to date and hit my 2015 revenue goals three months early. I've also made the right contacts at major companies to build professional relationships with.
How to Identify and Make The Most Out Of Networking Opportunities
Research the event—and the other attendees—before you attend.
If you're not doing this you should be. Make sure the registration fees, travel costs and overall time spent is worth the effort by doing some advance digging. If an event includes speed networking opportunities, nail down who you want to work with ahead of time and target your pitch. If you know the host or a speaker, get their opinion on whether the event is the right place for you to target a potential client. It's also great to know if someone you've been hoping to meet will be there, or if you've already heard these speakers perhaps you can skip this one. You can figure all of this out with a bit of Googling or an email or two.
Follow up with the contacts you made at your last event.
If you exhibited the courage to talk to total strangers and trade contact information, take the next step and actually use it! Taking a stack of business cards home to file without following up is a waste of the time you spent talking to those strangers in the first place. Make a habit of emailing or connecting via LinkedIn with new contacts within 24 to 48 hours (I often do it that night when I get home). That way you'll both still remember details of the exchanges you had (you should reference those in your message), and if and when you do reach out to them down the line, it won't be completely cold. And trust me, you'll stand out because most people don't do this. Seriously, I hear all the time how surprised someone is that I followed up because people always say they will and never do. Don't be those people!
Use what you've learned before you take another class.
Or attend another workshop or conference. Lots of networking events are tied in with conferences and other learning opportunities, but the rules are the same: if you haven't implemented the learnings from the last conference you attended, spend some time with those before you use more time and money on new training and education.
How will you know if its working?
You'll secure new work from your new connections.
I hope you're attending networking events with the goal of obtaining new projects or clients at some point. If that's not happening, you should rethink what you're getting out of it. Consider your goals and redirect your energies if necessary.
You'll be more in control.
The crowds at so many networking events are fueled by FOMO: fear of missing out. If you're not targeted with your outreach you'll feel like you have to go to everything because you never know who will be there. And there is of course the chance that you'll miss a connection or an opportunity, but by spending time prepping for the events you do decide to attend, those odds are greatly reduced.
You'll have more results.
Spending less time schmoozing gives you more time to produce high quality work you can show off to those potential clients you've carefully sought out. As a small business owner there's always something you can work on from website updates to accounting to actual client projects, so spend your time wisely creating outstanding products and services that will bring new clients into your life and keep old ones coming back!