If you’ve attended a networking event, you’ve likely connected with other business owners and entrepreneurs who later said, “Let’s meet over coffee.” Seems like a good idea, but what if you don’t know what to talk about at that follow up business meeting?
Whether it’s in person or at an online virtual meeting, you can make that follow up to the networking event a successful one by having clear objectives meeting again. Are you looking for opportunities and clients or just building connections?
Here are five tips to help you make meaningful connections and create effective business opportunities.
1 Be clear about who you are and what you do so the right people will connect
At every in person networking meeting, they say you should bring some business cards in case you make connections. It’s also highly effective if you have a succinct, 15 to 30 second description of yourself. When each person is given a chance to introduce themselves, you should prepare an intro that states your name, the name of your business, what you do, and restate your business name again.
If you are clear about who you are and what you do, you will help those in the audience decide if they want to work with you or if they know someone to connect with you. (More about this in tip 3.)
These days, with Zoom and virtual business meetings, having your contact information typed out and double checked for spelling and punctuation saves time. You can copy and paste your information in the chat. In some cases, they invite you to share your contact information in the comments of a Facebook post about the networking event.
2 Attend networking business meetings that attract the type of people you want to meet
Another tip for a successful networking meeting is to learn as much as you can about the event prior to attending. What industries or niches do the attendees represent? Are these attendees new to their career? Do they have a newly-minted business or have they been in business for a while?
These questions are important because if you command a high price tag, a new business may not have the means to hire you. Similarly, if you are just starting to build your skills and your client network, a five-year old business may prefer to hire someone with an established success record.
If you are in a marketing business specializing in marketing for tech companies with 50 or more employees, going to an event for small business owners may not be the best use of your time. To make the connections you’re looking for, do your research on the event prior to attending.
3 Understand that networking is not the same as building a purposeful connection
After attending a networking meeting, you might have a list of contacts to follow up on. You might also be approached by someone who wants to meet with you and learn more about your business over coffee (or virtual coffee these days). Be cautious about such an invitation.
If you’re a new business owner, freelancer, or entrepreneur, meeting someone for coffee and getting to know each other’s business sounds like a great idea. You’ll build up your contact list and even if you don’t do business together, you’ll know who to recommend for (insert their business product or service here).
However, if time is valuable to you, this type of meeting may not be worth your time for two main reasons. First, many MLM (multi-level marketing and network marketing) associates start their conversations this way. They pretend to be interested in what you do so that you meet with them one on one, and then they gradually work their way into pitching you to buy their products or join their team.
Second, general getting-to-know-you chats don’t usually lead into any business. You already introduced yourself and what you do at the networking event. If someone truly is interested in bringing you business, they will say something specific such as, “I heard you say you were looking for copywriting clients in the investing niche. My company is looking for more experienced copywriters. Let’s talk over coffee.”
If the other party just wants to know your business more, they don’t have any specific business leads for you. It’s not even clear if they bothered to take notes on why they want to meet with you in the first place.
4 Research the person or business prior to the meeting
The person initiating a meeting with you might be upfront about their business. It’s also possible that they didn’t have time to tell you much about the details of their business (there is only so much you can fit into a group Zoom meeting, even with breakout rooms). If either is the case, do your own research.
For a new business, the person you are meeting is probably looking for a trade or a collaboration. They aren’t likely to be spending a lot on your products or services. For example, if you are photographer and they are looking for some products to be photographed. Depending on their priorities, it is possible they have set aside a decent budget for photography.
There is always a possibility that the other party will have more to offer you in the business meeting than you expected. However, in most cases, most sole proprietors and small business owners are working with a limited budget. They are looking to meet with others who are in a similar situation and want to support each other to expand their business through a mutual trade.
5 Be clear about your expectations for the business meeting
Always be clear about your expectations prior to the meeting. Most in person or virtual meetings are about an hour. If the other person says they want to “chat and get to know you and what you do,” expect that you’ll be working on building a connection. The connection might lead somewhere, or it might not.
A more specific objective, such as working on details about whether you can help them build their website if they offer you graphic design and branding will more likely result in business being exchanged.
Networking is an important part of growing your business. A follow up meeting after attending a networking event will be more effective if you are clear about your goals for the business meeting, whether you just want to make a connection or work on a business deal.
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