Many of us think we hate networking. I hear it all the time: "I can't do it." "Not my comfort zone." "I hate putting myself out there." Why do we feel this way?
When you think about it, nobody can sell your products or services as well as you can. Period. You can hire salespeople, you can use social media, and you can advertise, but when you get right down to it, business is all about the relationships you build. So how do you get out there and build those in a way that works for you and your business?
First of all, take off some pressure - networking is NOT selling! Networking IS building relationships. Through networking you can find customers, of course, but you can also find suppliers, partners, mentors, people to share joint marketing ventures or attend other events with, and so much more.
How do you choose the right events? Look at your target audience. What type of events would you be likely to find them at? Chamber of Commerce luncheons? More expensive business dinners? Consumer trade shows? Industry association meetings? Who else targets this same audience and where would they be likely to go? Think of competitors but, more importantly, of complementary businesses.
Now think about what events would be best suited for you to find the "right" people for your business. List different events and then go out and actually test them out, perhaps one or two a month. When you hit on a good fit, go regularly and get to know those who attend. Try to create beneficial partnerships that can leverage both your business and that of the other person(s) you are getting to know.
Nervous about knowing how to approach someone at an event, or what to say once you've broken the ice? Use your nametag to help with this - put your first name and one to three words that describe what you do in a creative way (not simply your business name or job title). Make sure it is large enough to read and make it different, odd or interesting.
Introduce yourself this way as well. People will ask what this means which can lead to a fun discussion about what you do. In my case, I am a "Business Connector" because I host networking nights that bring people together to learn about each other's businesses and collaborate to achieve business success. Generally this type of discussion will lead to even more questions about your work.
Read the local business section of the newspaper before networking - knowing what is current in the news can be most helpful if you run out of things to say to someone. Keep your interactions short - don't tie someone up with a long story: engage, chat for a few moments, extract, and move on.
Be yourself but stay professional, have fun, and go build your business!