Networking: Know What to Say, and When to Say It
Experts agree that networking is a must for every small business owner. Few other tools are more effective in building visibility about you and your business, and gaining access to potential customers, colleagues, and referrals.
But while we may be absolutely brilliant at what we do as entrepreneurs, not everyone is a born networker. Social situations can be intimidating, especially when you’re just starting out, and the knowledge that many other people have may be equally uncomfortable in these settings is rarely much comfort.
A good start is to prepare the 30-second “elevator speech”—a concise description about who you are and what you do that can be delivered completely in the time it takes to travel between floors.
When preparing your elevator speech, focus on how you help customers solve problems or improve their lives and businesses. Also consider different elevator speeches for different audiences, e.g., potential customers, other entrepreneurs, family and friends, and people who may know nothing about your industry.
Keynote speaker and trainer Debra Fine, Author of The Fine Art of Small Talk (Hyperion) also suggests these tips for networking newcomers:
Introduce and initiate. Go ahead and initiate with a hello! Even if you recognize, or slightly know someone, reintroduce yourself. By taking ownership and initiating a conversation, you will feel more in control to drive the direction of the exchange.
Use an icebreaker. This not only provides a way to meet new people, but also helps jumpstart conversations. For example, using an icebreaker such as “Tell me about your conference last week...” instead of simply saying hello can lead to a fruitful conversation, rather than an uncomfortable silence.
Express interest and make an effort. Part of your job as a conversation starter is to get the other person to talk. Listen to what your conversational partner is saying and ask relevant follow-up questions. Take cues from them and make a mental list of questions you can ask to get them to elaborate.
Exit thoughtfully. In many business situations, it’s important to make contact with several people and move around a room. Find an appropriate point in the conversation to make an exit. Make a plan that is actionable and give a specific time when you’ll follow up. Most importantly, if you say you’re going to do something, do it!
To learn more, contact SCORE Lakes Region by calling 603-524-0137 or log on to www.scorelakesregion.org and link to Free Counseling. Experienced business advisors are available to offer free and confidential advice. SCORE is a nonprofit organization of more than 10,500 volunteer. Also, if you are interested in offering a small amount of your time by sharing your business experience to others please contact our office.