Entrepreneurs Love To Network, But Are They Really Good At It?

We are all guilty of huddling in the same groups, talking to the same people at meetings and conferences. It is nice to catch up with old friends, but meeting new people opens new doors of opportunity.

To survive as a business owner, and entrepreneur, you must create personal and professional networks. These networks serve several major functions. First, they provide a source of emotional support. Your ability to attract projects depends to a great extent on the quality and skilful use of your network.

If you have an extensive network of potential clients, or colleagues who know potential clients, you are in a good position to market your services/products. If your network is small or spotty, you will be forced to make a high number of low-probability cold calls. A warm referral beats a cold call any day. You won’t stay in business long if your network does not produce referrals. A few tips for your next conference or meeting:

Icebreakers do just that, break the ice. Ever notice how talkative people are at the end of the meeting as opposed to the beginning? If we are comfortable, we are much more likely to join the conversation. Some use icebreakers at meetings where people do not know each other well, but try an icebreaker to help people get to know each other better.

This example works with a group of 10 – 30. Ask everyone to write on a card something about themselves that most people do not know. The cards are shuffled and the group tries to match the statement to the person. You might find a former hair model or sky diving champ in the group.

Networking like a croissant, not a doughnut is something I learned from the networking events hosted by the South African Portuguese Chamber (SAPCC) when I become a member of the chamber.

At networking breaks at conferences or meetings, we often get in a small circle of three to four people. The circle does not invite anyone to join our conversation. In fact, it puts up a barrier to entry. Instead of a circle, form a crescent or croissant shape, leaving an area open for others to join. It is much more welcoming.

If you are organising an event, add some structured networking games/exercises to the agenda. Structured networking makes sure that everyone gets involved. Challenge attendees to meet three new people at the break then drop their card in a bowl for a prize drawing. Have assigned seats for part of the program to mix up people from different parts of town, industry, areas of expertise, etc.

My GROWTHMAP INFONOMICS colleagues and I came up with a good idea – make sure you learn everyone’s name and organization at your table and can recite them. Another game is create a check-off card that has people record when they meet a conference sponsor, new member, board member, past president, etc. and drop the card in a bowl for a prize drawing.

As an event attendee, make sure to do your homework in advance. Review the attendee list. Make a target list of people you want to get to know. Look them up on LinkedIn to be able to find them in the crowd. Ask colleagues in common to introduce you. Be strategic so that you can capitalize on the time you invested in participating in the meeting, conference, business breakfast, gala dinner etc.

To cement new relationships, follow up! Write on the back of their card a note that reminds you what to follow up on. Don’t forget to add new people you meet to your database. Send items of interest, make introductions, or just write a quick note saying you are glad you could connect. People will remember you, and you may start a valuable conversation.

Your networking ability is critical for your success. An effective network connects you to people, diverse expertise, potential clients, and to professional, as well as emotional, support. Good networks produce ongoing two-way communication. Leads are passed along and favors are exchanged. In good networks, everyone benefits.

Being mindful with networking will open new doors for business and new professional friendships. You never know from which door opportunity will knock.