Networking events provide a great opportunity to make new contacts and start to build relationships and to promote your business but to get the most possible business help out of them you need to plan carefully. Here are 10 key ways to profit from any networking event you attend and get some powerful business help.

1. Decide why you are attending.

Just because it says ‘networking event’ in the title doesn’t mean you have to be there. What exactly do you plan to achieve? All too often, I see people leaving an event (especially an exhibition) laden down with business cards and literature but frustrated by how little business help achieved. We always get that which we focus on and if we don’t have a focus… guess what we will get? Measure your results against your plan.

2. Will your contacts be attending and do they know you will be there too?

Tell people in your address book you plan to attend. Email your customers, your prospects and potential strategic partners and let them know you plan to be there. Include a link in your email so they know how to get more information (some will appreciate you thinking of them). Send a message on Twitter and suggest a meet up before, after or during the event. If you feel you are going to get something from the event, it figures that someone else will. So help promote the event.

3. What do you want to achieve?

Who do you want to meet? Potential buyers, introducers, or strategic partners or perhaps you just want to maintain contact with existing or potential customers. Think about what sort of business help you’re after and talk to the people who can provide it.

4. Who is exhibiting?

If the event involves an exhibition, who will be exhibiting? Is there anyone from the list who could be a good strategic partner for you (or even a customer)? Let those you believe have potential know in advance that you have noticed they are exhibiting and would like to stop by.

5. What will you take?

Do you have enough business cards and product information, as well as a name tag, a note book or recorder, a pen and a camera? You are likely to meet many people and you won’t remember all their details and won’t get any business help from them.

6. Plan ahead.

Put all your business cards in one place and have a specific place to put those you collect from other people. Consider how you will remember your conversations and what you promised to do (follow-up, send information, arrange a meeting, etc.). That’s why a recorder and a camera are so useful. Certainly, a pen and notebook will help you to keep all your notes in one place.

7. How can I help you?

Most people attending networking events and exhibitions are there to get business help in some way. Good practice is to listen first, speak second. Apart from actually asking,“Who are you looking to meet today?” a good question at the appropriate moment is always “How can I help you?” or “How will I recognise a good client for you?” Make sure you know the answer if they ask you the same question. If their answer (or your answer) is “Anybody” or “Everybody”, they haven’t given the question enough thought… and neither have you. Be very specific about what you want and you are likely to get it. ‘Anybody’ or ‘everybody’ is, in reality, nobody (too general).

Remember that people are not really interested in what you do. They are only interested in what they are left with, after you have done what you do. So understand what people are left with, after you have done what you do. Don’t simply focus on what you do.

8. Follow-up is critical so you may as well PLAN IT NOW.

If you don’t review the information you receive during the event and translate it into actual business help, your attendance will have been wasted. What time have you allowed to follow-up and when will you do it? If you collect 25 cards at the event, how will you get that information into your database system? You do have a database system, don’t you?

Have your organised a time and method to follow up? Will it be by email (personalised, of course), postcard (most effective), or phone call (brilliant)? What will the purpose of the communication be: to stay in touch, to arrange a meeting, or to send your stuff?

Most people don’t follow up because they don’t plan the time to do it. If you happen to be exhibiting, you need to allow at least a day to get that done and to arrange follow up – or get someone to do it for you.

9. Don’t send unsolicited material.

Meeting people at an event does not mean you have permission to send them material, no matter how much you think they want or need it. If you want to avoid being labelled ‘too pushy’ or a ‘junk mailer’, ask people for their permission to send them material.

10. What next?

Face the fact that you are unlikely to turn business cards into business help on the day (98% people don’t buy from strangers). However, if you make a good impression AND you follow up, you will have the start of a potentially fruitful relationship that will either result in future business help or an introduction to someone who will want to buy your product or service. Plus, you will be doing what almost none of your competitors are doing.

Have fun and enjoy the experience!

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