It’s 8 a.m. You’re sitting at a table with other entrepreneurs, business cards at the ready, sipping coffee and chewing a bagel. As the networking event’s speaker drones on, you rehearse your 30-second elevator speech in your head. You hope the meeting will be fruitful, but wonder if there’s a better way.
As entrepreneurs, we need to network. It’s a vital tool to grow our client base, learn from our fellow business owners and build other key relationships. But how can we go beyond the coffee, bagels and elevator speeches to network more effectively?
Know Your Purpose
There are a variety of networking options available, but before you choose which one(s) may be right for you, think about your purpose for networking:
- Are you looking for direct clients?
- Are you looking to learn from other business owners?
- Are you looking for referrals to your target market?
- Are you looking for a social outlet to combat isolation?
Explore Your Options
With your purpose(s) in mind, research your networking options -- traditional face-to-face networking groups in your area, online networking and non-traditional options.
Traditional networking groups may include Chamber of Commerce meetings, BNI, civic associations, women’s groups, Ladies Who Launch, eWomen Network and Small Business Association (SBA) meetings. Depending on your purpose and how you approach them, these groups can be helpful to your business. Another option, online networking, allows you to network outside of geographic and time boundaries.
Other, non-traditional networking groups are also becoming popular. These organizations are typically formed around lifestyles or common interests and can include book clubs, hobby groups or active networking.
Active networking is a term coined by ActivEntrepreneur, a national business networking group focused on entrepreneurs who strive to lead active, healthy and eco-friendly lives. Active Networking mixes business networking with walking, biking, kayaking and even salsa dancing. It’s networking on your feet, instead of in your seat.
“It’s a funny thing about exercise – the endorphins are kicking in, you feel more relaxed, your guard is down, and you’re immediately launched into this comfort zone that no other networking environment I have experienced provides,” said Linda Pace, owner of The Life of the Party, a party and event planning consulting service in Long Island, New York.
Throw Out the Elevator Speech
Regardless of which type of business networking you choose, effective networking lies beyond your one-minute elevator speech. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be able to define who you are and what you do in one-minute or less (you should), but make it a natural part of conversation, not a rehearsed speech. And listen to what the person you’re speaking to says, rather than worrying about your “speech.” Have conversations, get to know people, and don’t worry about how many business cards you collect. Instead, focus on the quality and depth of the connections you make.
When you find a networking group that’s a fit, take the next step by signing up and proactively participating. Make the effort to build relationships within the group. Go beyond the monthly or weekly events to build stronger relationships. Networking in a forum you are comfortable with will allow you to stretch beyond your comfort zone and make meaningful connections that offer support and help you grow your business.