Networking is a valuable tool for small business owners. Its benefits can have far-reaching effects on your business such as new clients, opportunities for growth, and professional development. Your time is precious, so you’ll want to make the most out of any networking you do by being prepared and having set goals in mind. Follow the suggestions below to get started.

  • Get background information on people you’ll be meeting and events you’ll be attending. Perhaps you’ve registered for an industry convention; plan ahead by creating a schedule of seminars you’d like to attend and/or vendors you’d like to meet. If one of those events is a Q&A session with a panel of experts, for example, research those members of the panel so you can ask them specific questions and take advantage of their individual experiences. If there’s a Twitter hashtag set up for the event, take a look at the profiles of the people using that hashtag leading up to the event. Make note of any people you’d like to connect with in person, and begin interacting online ahead of time, so you’re familiar with each other at the event, and look forward to meeting each other in person.
  • Use scripting that is natural and enhances bonding. Informal networking situations call for you to think on your feet more often than not. This can be done more easily when you have a foundation for the message you want to send to others. Create a script ahead of time, allowing for many variations to fit different situations, and practice saying the words in a natural, conversational tone. Consider role-playing with a colleague while recording the exchange to get an idea of how you sound to others. Make sure your script includes something positive and memorable, like a poignant story about why you started your business or how you’ve really connected with your community through your business. You should definitely have an idea of what you’ll say, but speak from the heart and your sincerity will shine through.
  • Listen to others in order to find ways to make introductions and help others with their needs. Listening is a large part of successful networking. Most people love to talk about themselves, so use that opportunity to learn who they are, what they want/need, and how you can help. Ask personalized questions. For example, in an informal gathering, a fellow workshop attendee mentions that he wants to find a souvenir for his young daughter while visiting the area. Ask him how old his daughter is and share some of your favorite local shops where he might find what he’s looking for. Now that you’ve broken the ice, continue with a conversation and you may have just acquired a new contact. Always have your ears open for networking opportunities.
  • Follow up and keep in touch regularly. Acquiring new contacts is half the battle, but keeping them is the other half. Implement time in your schedule dedicated to following up with your contacts. Depending on the situation, a brief email might suffice, but other relationships may benefit from a handwritten note or phone call. Keep a log of whom you contacted and when, and make a note in your calendar of when to follow up with them again. A system of regular correspondence will ensure that you never lose touch with your contacts.

You can have successful networking experiences with some research, planning, and commitment. Maximizing the time you spend networking will help you grow your business and reach your professional goals.

Do you have something else to add to our list? Please comment below with your ideas!