Tactics for Better Business Networking

If you are a self-employed creative, business networking is a significant part of your marketing mix. While designers, illustrators and photographers naturally get together with other creatives for mutual support and trend watching, creative industry events will not necessarily put you in direct contact with potential clients. If you want clients, you need to hang out where your potential clients hang out. One tactic utilizes networking events.

In-person networking works differently than online networking (such as LinkedIn). Business networking events are presented by chambers of commerce, trade and professional associations, referral groups (TEAM, BNI) and Meet-Up groups. No matter what your target focus is, there are effective strategies you can implement to make the most of your networking time. What follows are some dos and don’ts to help you succeed with your in-person business networking:

Do your research.

Before you attend, learn about who the event is for. Unless you want to work with medical professionals, don’t go to their events. You are the one who determines where you spend your time, and what will and will not be profitable for you. Be selective.

Dress the part.

No matter what event you attend, clothe yourself in attire that allows you fit in with other guests. If your market is businesses, wear business attire. Don’t show up in blue jeans and Vans if you are reaching out to accountants or attorneys. From appropriate attire to post-event follow-up, professionalism is vital.

Use business cards.

An actual card is a necessary and expected item to have on hand at a business networking event. Although younger creatives like to share their contact information digitally, the physical card is still preferred by most business pros, no matter how technically savvy they might be. It’s easy to forget someone who’s share only digital information. A business card provides an automatic series of encounters. People will ask you for them, and there is a reciprocity policy. If you ask for someone’s card, give them yours in exchange.

Don’t be a salesman.

Attend with the idea that you are making introductions, not closing a sale. Don’t go with the idea that you’ll come away with a new client. Networking is not about selling, but connecting. Business people do business with people they know. Therefore,  go with the intention of starting relationships and conversations, not selling your services or landing your next commission.

Listen for clues.

Focus on listening to gain insight on how you can help another with their problem. You want to look for clues to what a person’s struggle is, or what their business is dealing with in the marketplace. With a problem identified, you can offer a solution and gain a client. You’ll also want to listen for what’s going on in an industry as a whole in order to address those concerns with potential clients in that industry.

Mind your Ps and Qs (pints and quarts).

Many networking events include a bar. Be careful with your consumption. Inebriation is embarrassing, awkward, and not what you want to be remembered for.

Follow up.

After the event, connect on LinkedIn, follow people on Twitter and make other appropriate social connections. A few days after the event send a short email to each person you talked with to let them know you appreciated meeting them. If you talked about something specific, mention that or use it as a follow up point. Again, think of relationship-building rather than selling. BOLO (be on the lookout) for interesting articles and information links that will benefit your new contact, and simply email or tweet them with a short note.

Be consistent.

If you go to only one industry event, few will remember you well enough to stay engaged with you. Attend several events with the same group over a period of several months. Greet the people you met at a previous event, and ask them what’s new, thereby building your connection level.

With a few strategies used effectively over the long term, you can build your target audience, expand your reach and increase your influence. Be sure to make business networking a regular part of your outreach strategy.

Your turn:

Set aside an hour in the next 7 days to go online to research industry events, Meet-Up groups, chambers of commerce and interest groups where your potential clients gather. Select 2 or 3 to attend in the next 30 days. Share your experiences in the comments section.