By Andrew Smith, director, Aberdeen Business Network (ABN)
We live in an age in which our social interaction is increasingly done by digital means and business networking is no different.
The rise of online networking means that a connection can be made with the click of a finger and an audience of thousands or more can be reached with a single post. It's no wonder why some professionals may feel like they can now set aside the need for face-to-face networking.
ABN has long embraced the power of online networking - our free online networking platform, ABNCommunity, has more than 6,500 members and has facilitated countless business connections.
However, I still feel passionately that there is no true replacement for quality face-to-face networking. It's for this reason that we continue to host nearly 30 face-to-face networking events every year.
Online networking shouldn't be viewed as a substitute for offline networking. The two should go hand-in-hand.
At a time in which many of your competitors are using both online and offline networking to their advantage, can you truly afford to not be doing the same?
Hopefully, this has got you thinking about the importance of face-to-face networking as a step in your relationship-building process and you're on the look out for your next local event.
Whether you're attending your first networking event or you're an old hand at them, here are seven things you should aim to do at your next face-to-face networking event in order to maximise the benefit you receive from it.
1. Be prepared – Before attending a networking event, you should decide what it is you hope to get out of it. Maybe you're looking to raise the profile of your business or to make new business contacts. Set some goals in advance. Then consult a delegate list and decide which of the attendees would be key to helping you meet them. Taking this time before the event to prepare means you will be confident and focused on the day.
2. Be relaxed – Everyone at a networking event is there for the same reasons: to meet new people and to establish businesses connections. Keeping this in mind takes the stress out of approaching new people which makes for more comfortable conversations.
3. Be friendly – At networking events, you want to ensure that you act as an ambassador for your business. Often that means being engaging and polite. Conservations don't have to be strictly business; people are much more likely to warm to you if you engage them in conversation about other topics first before heading into the heavier business discussion. By making sure you ask questions before you talk about yourself and your business, you avoid coming across as if you are just attending to make sales and instead seem likeable, genuine and interested.
4. Be open minded – You arrived knowing which attendees you hoped to talk to, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't engage with other people too. Not only is it simply the polite thing to do but talking to those whose business may not strictly be helpful to you right now can build connections for the future. You never know who someone might know, or what help you may need in future.
5. Be memorable – Ideally, you'd like to have every person you speak to leave with a lasting impression of yourself and of your business. That may not always be possible, but there are ways you can try to make an impression on attendees. By engaging even with those who you don't think will help you meet your goals, you may realise that there is a useful connection for them elsewhere in the room. Make the introduction for them and raise your own profile, while also creating a positive lasting impression of yourself as someone who is helpful.
6. Be patient – Building relationships often takes time; you can't expect to come home from every event with new business. Often, attending these events regularly and becoming a familiar face to other business owners is your best bet to ensuring you receive business in the long term. It's often the case that turning the casual conversations at networking events into deals takes time and requires a degree of follow up.
7. Be proactive – The networking doesn't end once you leave the event. Make sure you keep the details and business cards of those you speak to and be sure to follow-up on any promising leads, whether digitally or by arranging to meet them again to talk the old-fashioned way - face-to-face.
Until the day when networking events can be done over a virtual reality headset, there will always be a place for face-to-face in networking. So, get out there and make the connections that let other local businesses get to know you.
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