Monday, November 21, 2016

Don’t Hand Out Business Cards in the Restroom – and Other Networking Tips for Small Business Owners

A few years ago, I spoke at a conference for small business owners.  During a break, I went to the restroom and while I was washing my hands, a woman entered, said “Here is my card,” and proceeded to hand out business cards to the two women standing by the door.  Since my hands were still wet, she placed a card for me on the sink.  Then she left. 

That was it – no introduction, no handshake, no question about me – so I threw the card in the garbage.  She probably went back to her office and wondered why no one contacted her. 

In addition to not handing out business cards in the restroom, here are five more tips to help you be a successful networker:

Be a Good Listener
Good networkers are good listeners.  If you ask good questions and actively listen to the answers, people will remember you.  Prepare open-ended questions that invite the other person to share something (as much or as little as they choose) about themselves, such as, “How did you get started in x field?” or “What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?”

Be Positive and Energetic
When I was president of a professional association, I often introduced myself to first-time attendees.  Here is one conversation that I had with a newcomer:

Me: “Hi, I’m Gilda Bonanno, president of the association.  I see you’re a first-timer.  Welcome.”
Him: “Hi, I’m Jim” (while shaking my hand limply, looking at the floor and not smiling).
Me: “It’s nice to meet you, Jim.  Tell me a little about yourself.”
Him: “I’m an instructional designer” 
Me: “Oh, that’s interesting. What do you like about the work?”
Him: “It’s actually difficult, especially with the economy.  And the clients sometime don’t get it.”
Me: “Yes, we can all identify with having difficult clients sometimes.”
Him: “Well, this guy today was just not getting it and….” 

And he proceeded to tell me a long sob story about this client and left me with the first impression that I would not want to work with him or recommend him to others. 

If you are trying to attract new customers or build your professional brand, a networking event is not the place to complain about the economy or a bad client.  If something has happened where you’re not in the mood to be positive or demonstrate energy, then stay home.  You’re not doing yourself any favors by showing up with a negative attitude. 

If You Are Uncomfortable Introducing Yourself to Strangers, Volunteer
If you are the person handing out programs, checking people in at the registration desk or validating parking tickets, you have an automatic and official excuse to introduce yourself to people at a networking event.  Even after your official duties are over, you can open a conversation by saying, “I saw you at the desk where I was doing the coat check, but I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself…”  Usually you will have a badge or nametag that identifies you as a volunteer and people may find it easier to approach you because of your “official” status. And other volunteers or board members often will be happy to introduce you to people they know. 

Schedule Time to Follow Up 
If you are attending an event where you expect to meet many people, made sure you plan time after the event to follow up as appropriate, whether it’s with a phone call, email or connection on social media.  It’s not successful networking if you collect business cards which then just sit on your desk collecting dust.  And if you have a team, don’t delegate the follow up unless you’ve specifically explained to the person that someone else will be contacting them. 

Don’t Automatically Add Someone to Your Mailing List
If someone has given you their card, that is not the same as permission to add them to your mailing list.  If they are in your target market, you can certainly send an email and invite them to subscribe to your newsletter, like your Facebook page or visit your blog, but the key word here is invite. Just handing you a card does not constitute an opt-in.  

Imagine what would happen if everyone you gave your card to at a monthly networking event automatically added you to their ezine mailing list.  You could be added to 15 ezine lists a month and if they were sent weekly, that would quickly add up to 60 more emails in your inbox in just one month! 

The next time you have the opportunity to network, follow these tips so you can connect with people, build professional relationships and be remembered for all the right reasons. 


This article first appeared in the how biz grows blog.

Gilda Bonanno's blog www.gildabonanno.blogspot.com


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