As any business owner knows, networking is a fundamental part of business. There is only so much you can do from behind a screen. The best way to build a rapport with someone is to meet them in person.
Since becoming a full-time Virtual Assistant in January, I knew I would need to start networking but the thought of being in a room with people who are smartly dressed still sent shivers down my spine. This was a hurdle I needed to jump over.
I started doing some research into networking groups available in my area; it turns out, they aren’t all formal ones. I came across some groups advertised as ‘casual networking’ which I was immediately drawn to. I found two groups in my local area: Ladies Who Latte and EvoGirls.
I attended my first one in February and relaxed after my sixty second intro and it honestly felt like a group of ladies getting together having a chat. It wasn’t scary at all. The meeting was for two hours and went very quickly. What is that saying? “Time flies when you are having fun.”
After I came out of the meeting, I was buzzing. I had collected business cards for about ten businesses and some really good leads. So, I attended another one the very next day.
From someone who is very new to networking, here are a few tips that helped me.
First ask yourself what sort of groups you would like to attend? Formal, less formal, casual? Once you have established that, you can start your research. There are so many networking groups out there, so knowing what sort of group you would like to attend will make the task of searching a lot easier.
Prepare your intro
For most groups, if not all, you will be required to provide a short introduction. This in itself can be daunting. Draft something you want to say by way of introducing yourself and what you do. Use your friends as guinea pigs and ask them for feedback. Practice it a few times till it feels more comfortable – but if you fluff it up on the day, no-one really minds!
Get there early
If I need to be somewhere, I always make sure I get there early. Chances are, the host is probably still setting up. Offer them help with setting up; you introduce yourself, ice broken. As people are arriving, you can introduce yourself to them one by one, rather than walking into a room full of strangers and not sure where to sit or what to say.
Where to sit
Getting there early also has another advantage. If there is an area sectioned off, sit in the middle. This way you are in the middle of the group and can have conversations with people either side of you or in front.
What to say
People love talking about themselves. Ask them about their business, when they started, why they started, where they live. There is nothing worse than awkward silences so going prepared with questions is handy. After a while, the conversation will flow and you won’t need to worry about your prepared questions. Look at it as if you are just having a chat, after all, that’s what you are doing.
I found there are quite a few people who will do a circuit of other networking groups so you are quite likely to see them again at other ones. Ask some of the others which groups they attend. Memberships can be valuable but also costly. Your best bet is to try a few and see which ones you like the best.
Going to these events regularly is all about building relationships as well as making connections. By attending the same events on a regular basis, it will help you build relationships and you will probably make some really good friends too. The more you attend the same events, the less likely you will be nervous because you have already met most of the people there.
The main thing I have found since I started my business is that there are ways to get around stumbling blocks, you just need to figure out what works for you.
Have a look online and search networking groups in your area.