How to Network

Alan L. Olsen, CPA, MBA (Tax) By Alan L. Olsen, CPA, MBS (Tax)
Managing Partner
Greenstein, Rogoff, Olsen & Co., LLP
Updated: 8/17/12

I often speak to groups about employees becoming entrepreneurs. Part of this transformation is increasing revenue by bringing in new clients. One question about finding new clients always comes up; “How do I network?” These employees sincerely want to network, they just don’t know how. In an attempt to give a worthwhile answer, I have created a simple step by step list of how to successfully network at an event. By addressing events specifically, I hope to include details that help both employees networking for the first time, as well as seasoned business development professionals.

By way of ground rules, I’m taking for granted that your product or service is of the highest quality. Nothing can outperform quality over the long-term, nothing. This list is designed for anyone working in professional services or a relationship based industry (which is most). As such, my first recommendation would be to care about the prospective client more than yourself. What do I mean by this? Simply put, if it is better for the client that you refer their business to a competitor, do it; even if no compensation will ever return. Clients must like and trust you. Putting their best interest first is the only way I know to earn both. Second, once a relationship is created and trust established, ask for the work! Do not wait or assume that they will call you when they need your help or product, ask now! Prepare, execute and follow up, then repeat...

Preparation

  1. Search calendars of groups that use or refer people to companies like yours, and select event/s.
  2. Get permission to attend the event from your appropriate Supervisor, Manager or Director.
  3. Register for the event early; especially good events will often sell out.
  4. Read up on the topic and bios of the speakers, panelists and moderator, if applicable.
  5. Arrive at least 20 minutes early to talk with speakers, panelists and fellow attendees.
  6. Prepare an elevator pitch that describes how we help people, (Not a sales pitch!), and an icebreaker.
  7. An icebreaker is an interesting and timely topic or fact relating to the event’s purpose or speaker, talk about it after the elevator pitch, but only if you confirm the prospect’s value as a client or referral.
  8. Dress appropriately and take at least 24 business cards and when possible, at least one coworker.
  9. Go with tangible goals: meet five new people, get LinkedIn with three, get business from two, etc.

Upon arrival

  1. Get a good seat next to individuals you do not know, remember, it’s about making new relationships!
  2. Coworkers, take every other seat to meet more prospects, if standing, draw others into your group.
  3. After quickly saying hello to current clients and friends, prioritize targets to meet, generally in this order: large potential clients and client sources, followed by the speakers, panelists, moderators and then other random attendees. Stay positive, enthusiastic and truly care about each person you meet!
  4. Make eye contact, introduce yourself, be friendly, show interest in every person you contact.
  5. Offer your business card to as many individuals as possible; always ask for their business card in return.
  6. Demonstrate your interest in each individual through the questions you ask, be a good listener.
  7. Keep notes and memorize as many names as possible, networks are built one person at a time.

During the event

  1. Try to get to know those sitting at your table or on either side of you, always be polite to competitors.
  2. Engage those next to you with a few friendly comments during the event, but do not talk too much!
  3. Continue to be friendly and pay attention to speakers and conversations around you.

Upon the speakers concluding

  1. Finish important conversations, salutations and say goodbye to those sitting near you, excuse yourself.
  2. Circle back to meet key individuals you have not yet met; in order of importance, or shortest line.
  3. If individuals important to you remain at the event, continue trying to meet them, stay prioritized.

After the event, follow-up (same day if possible)

  1. Write notes on their business card to remember meeting them: where, when and what you discussed.
  2. Discuss appropriate leads with your Supervisor, Manager or Director for their input.
  3. Enter contact information of appropriate leads into CRM software, then email LinkedIn invites.
  4. Send “Nice to meet you” email, with appropriate follow up: make appointment, add social media, etc.
  5. In the “Nice to meet you” email, mention that you would like to send them your newsletter.

After the event, more follow-up

  1. After a few days, if no response from the email resulted, add them to your company’s Newsletter list
  2. Attempt to establish a relationship, perhaps you can forward an interesting article dealing with their company or interests, send a congratulation card if they or their firm is in the news or win an award, invite them to other events that may interest them or, if appropriate, refer business to them.
  3. Offer to write articles for their company newsletter and ask them to contribute to yours.
  4. Continue periodic communications by inviting them to your company’s annual open house or inform them of new articles, books or special events of mutual interest, etc. It’s very important to keep in touch. You want them to think of you the next time they, or someone they know, want to ask a question about, or purchase your product or service.

Recently, an experienced business development (BD) professional I know attended an event along with two young coworkers. The coworkers were justifiably proud of the three business cards they garnered because one was from a well known industry expert. By following the above steps, the BD professional had garnered seven cards, including the expert’s.

If done correctly, these steps will help your network grow exponentially. Attending events with potential clients or client sources is an excellent way to add new revenue. Remember, the keys to successful networking are: preparation, execution, follow-up and sincerely caring about others. A network is built one relationship at a time, by truly caring about others’ best interests more than your own!

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