Update – I’ve updated this post to include a list of networking groups to check out in the Mississauga and Halton Region area.
Networking Strategies Are Necessary In Order To Make It Worthwhile
There’s no doubt that there a lot of benefits to making offline connections. You can’t beat the face-to-face meeting. Although you may be an introvert, it’s necessary for an entrepreneur to constantly step outside of your comfort zone. If you are a solopreneur, you tend to spend a lot of time by yourself. Even if you are working in a coffee shop surrounded by people, you’re still working by yourself and not having that much human interaction, except for giving your order to the barista.
One of my monthly goals has been to try and attend at least a couple of networking events and have a couple of 1 on 1 coffee meetings. Since I have been making this a part of my regular routine, I felt that like with all the other systems you have in place for your business, it is necessary to have one for networking as well. You’ve taken the time and effort out of your busy schedule to do some mingling and now it’s time to have some networking strategies in place to take it to the next level.
Here are some networking strategies to help make sure to get the most out of networking.
1. Organize your business cards.
This is one of the many little things on my to-do list. It’s not a huge priority right now, so they’re currently sitting in a pile on my desk. I’m planning on getting either a Rolodex or a business card holder with plastic sleeves. I remember having one by the phone in the family room in my parents’ house, which made complete sense if you needed to look up someone and call them. It was easy access to a wealth of information.
2. Don’t wait around for them to ask you for coffee.
It’s almost like dating, except for business purposes. If you would like to get together with them sooner than later, why not take the initiative to send them a quick, friendly email saying who you are and where you met. I feel like it’s best to chat with them not too long after you’ve met, while the memory and impression of you are still relatively fresh in their mind.
3. Always bring something to take notes with.
Whether it be a notebook, your laptop or tablet. The person you meet can provide you with valuable information (other networking events to attend, new ideas on how to promote your business) or the names of business contacts within their own network that is worth taking note of. You don’t want to forget anything important that was mentioned in the conversation.
4. Be prepared to possibly give your elevator pitch again, but an expanded version of it including your goals for yourself and your business.
It’s always helpful to remind someone what your vision is and who your target client is. Not only that, the additional practice of explaining what your business does is always a good thing. You may receive helpful recommendations on how to overcome the obstacles you’re facing and achieve your goals. I know it sounds scary divulging all this information to someone you’ve literally just met, but that’s what networking is all about. All entrepreneurs can relate to this very well and recognize the fact that it’s important to help other small business owners out however they can.
5. Create some sort of spreadsheet or file to keep track of your coffee meetings.
I created one with headings such as:
People to Connect With
Where Did You Meet
Name of Company
What They Do
Coffee Date Scheduled
Some things to consider here: If the number of people attending is relatively small, around 10 people or less, I think you should try to make an effort to have a conversation with everyone if possible. If the attendance is quite high, chances are you might not have been able to connect with everyone. A great type of meetup to ensure you connect with everyone at least once is a speed networking event, which is quite similar to the format of a speed dating event. The only difference is that you use the 2-3 min to give your elevator pitch and exchange business cards.
Don’t feel obligated to have coffee with EVERYONE you meet.
If any of the following apply: person generated a good first impression, a good conversation was exchanged, they seem very established and could provide you with valuable advice or you want to know more about their business/see yourself working together then suggest meeting up for a coffee. If you are attending a lot of events, it can end up getting confusing as to who you met where and when. This was my reasoning for having a “Where and When Did You Meet Section”. Keep in mind that the people you meet are most likely having a lot of coffee dates and attending various networking events as well.
The Notes section is for miscellaneous things. Some notes I’ve put in that section are: I’d like to work with this person in the future or have them speak at an event I’m hosting. This is a neater version of the notes I’ve scribbled down in my notebook from the actual coffee conversation. Some of the information from the headings in the spreadsheet is already found on the business card but I like being able to look at all the information at a glance. This document can be something to refer back to. Perhaps you would like to schedule another coffee date with someone within a few months. Or you need to recommend one of your contacts to someone you recently met.
What networking strategies are you using to help you network efficiently?
If you’re looking to attend some networking events here are some and the associated groups that I’ve checked out myself:
Oakville Alliance – This was actually the very first networking event I went to. Join the FB group in order to get updates about when events will be held.
Busiwomen Meet and Greet – Held the last Wednesday every month at the Boston Pizza on Dundas and Neyagawa. Cost includes a breakfast buffet, door prizes, networking with other businesswomen and fun exercises to learn more about yourself and your business.
OSBN – The Ontario Small Business Network holds monthly events at various locations including Mississauga, Oakville, and Huntsville. There are several presenters speaking about various topics that relate to small businesses. The event also includes networking activities to help get to know the other attendees.
Haltech – Is an organization that supports start-ups and entrepreneurs in the Halton Region. They host a variety of events at their location in Burlington.
Millennial Network Group – This group has various chapters throughout Southwestern Ontario, with the Oakville/Milton one being the newest chapter. They have a wide variety of events to attend.
BizConX – This group also has various chapters throughout Southwestern Ontario. They normally hold their events in the evening at the local Boston Pizza.