Networking – How to Work a Room

You might be in business for yourself, but you don’t have to do it by yourself. 

Some of the best ideas come from fellow small business owners – even competitors. Networking events offer a great opportunity to tap that resource. The key is getting the most from these events by knowing how to “work the room.” Check out these tips to help you approach fellow entrepreneurs comfortably and exchange useful insights.

Selecting the Right Event

Before selecting a networking event, think about what you want to accomplish—get ideas, learn how to do something, ask for a referral, or find out what others are doing. Choose one that will deliver the expected result. For example, a seminar might be more appropriate to learn about a specific topic. A grand opening might be just the ticket if you want to meet new people.

Start with these organizations to see what’s available in your area: Chamber of Commerce, SCORE, service organizations like Rotary International, or Meetup. Or consult your social media contacts to see which events they’re going to. 

Networking doesn’t have to be at a formal event. You might strike up a conversation with business owners while in line to make your bank deposit or at the office supply store. What about your own customers? They are also great sources of networking contacts.

5 Ways to Maximize Your Attendance

Now that you have your sights on a networking event, here are some tips to get the most from it:

Tip #1: Scan the room first.

You don’t have to make contact right away. Take a minute to look around the room to see where people are interacting. Maybe it’s around the registration table, refreshment stand, standup tables or a display booth. Try one of them out. It can be less intimidating to move to an area where interaction is already occurring. People are already primed to talk with each other.

Tip #2: Remember it’s a two-way street.

Networking is an exchange of information, not a one-sided ask. That means you need to offer something of value to the other person. Maybe it’s information on a new business coming to town or a free resource on complying with that new city ordinance. Doing so will make the interaction seem less like you’re pumping someone for information and more like a conversation.

Tip #3: Mind the nametag.

Nametags are underrated when it comes to networking, especially when they list the attendee’s company. It’s a great way to locate promising contacts – people in a related industry, potential customers, or leaders in the community. Plus, it’s much easier to start a conversation when you know someone’s first name.

Tip #4: Select your opening line.

One of the most intimidating parts of networking is knowing how to start up the conversation. One of the simplest ways is to introduce yourself. Don’t be afraid to admit this is your first time. Most people who have been in your situation are willing to help. Some will even introduce you to others – just ask.  

Here are 30 conversation starters from readers of The Muse. Some are pretty corny but they give you a range of possibilities. Notice that some are open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no answer. These give you more information to keep the conversation going. For example, “You make a good point. I have that same issue in my business. Here’s what I do.” Take a look at these ideas from Forbes to end a conversation so you can move on to the next person. 

Tip #5:  Follow-up after the event.

Continue the conversation by following up with your key contacts. That’s your opportunity to ask the question you wish you had asked or to share an insight that didn’t occur to you then.

How do you keep track of your contacts? One way is to exchange business cards. Jot down your follow-up idea on the back. Or use an app like CamCard. With your mobile phone, you can scan,  organize and make notes on business cards you gather.

Don’t miss out on the wisdom of other business owners. Tap this valuable resource by attending a networking event in your area. These tips will help you get the biggest benefit for it.

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