Networking

One of your colleagues recently asked:

I have worked from home the past few years, and this year I thought about attending AICPA Egnage. 

When it came down to it, I didn’t go. I felt like I’d be awkward and wouldn’t know a lot of people there. 

I want to break free of these thoughts holding me back. I know you typically talk about social media and networking online, but do you have any tips for networking in person? 

Networking is a hot topic for every business owner.

Firms need to be networking, especially when 95% of professionals think it’s vital to their success.

(And I agree with that number!)

So, where do you begin?

Tradeshows and industry events. Trust me, I just came back from a recent conference, and the networking possibilities were endless.

When it comes to networking in person, I have a process I follow. 

It’s worked extremely well for me, and I hope you can take it (or parts of it) and find success with it as well. Here it is.👇

Prep Before the Event

Imagine if 5% to 20% of your clients came from events.

You would prep for the event then, right? 

Well, this is an actual stat, and just one of the reasons why I love attending events. 

More than the ability to get new clients, I love to truly connect with people. Connecting with people online is great, but nothing replaces face-to-face communication and seeing a real person.

So, what’s my prep look like before the event? 

I’ll walk you through a real-life example. 

Recently, I attended the HABU conference. One of the people I wanted to meet with while there was Nick Sinclair (the founder of TOA Global). I reached out to him ahead of the event on LinkedIn and let him know that I was attending HABU and couldn’t wait to hear his insights on solving the talent crisis. 

We set up a time to grab ☕ while we were at the event. 

How did this all happen?

  1. I scanned a list of all the vendors and speakers
  2. I created a list of the people I wanted to engage with and become friendly with
  3. I contacted them before the event to set up a meeting or simply let them know I was looking forward to seeing them at the event

Create your own list, and reach out to these individuals beforehand. Set up a coffee or cocktail date with them or just simply let them know you’ll be there. Trust me – they want to network, too.

Create your list as early as you can. I even recommend following what I did:

  • Create a Google Sheet with all the names of people I want to connect with
  • Create a column that includes the priority for meeting with the individual. For example, some people you want to set up a “one-on-one” with and others you simply want to make sure you say “hello” to
  • Create a column for what date you plan to meet with them
  • Create one last column with contact information. That way you can text (my preference) and/or email whoever it is you’re looking to meet when and ensure you don’t miss them.

Simple, right? 

But don’t leave just yet. There’s still a lot to cover.

Become an Event Rockstar

You’ve prepared, and now it’s time to take your networking to the next level:

  1. Review your sheet right before the event – you don’t want to miss meeting with anyone important
  2. Create and share your contact card via text (I use Apple Contact)
  3. Ask for the person’s number when handing someone your card, and then ask for their number to text them your contact card
  4. Bring business cards as backup – I prefer to share my Apple Contact so I have their number as a result, but some people prefer a business card. When that’s the case, this way I have cards to give them as a backup.

Something I don’t see people talk about often is dressing for events in a way that makes you memorable and easy to find in a crowd of people. A few tips to use for ideas are:

👉 Unique jewelry

👉 A creative print

👉 Fun shoes

👉 A hot pink blazer (did you see Lorilynn Wilson at AICPA Engage? She totally rocked it!)

Since you may be out of your comfort zone a bit, consider brainstorming conversation starters ahead of time. You can ask other people if it’s their first time at this event, or an easy go to is to ask people where they’re from and let the conversation flow from there. 

Also, don’t forget to have your elevator pitch refined for times when people ask you what you do. It’s defeating when a great contact asks you, “what do you do,” and it feels like someone asked you to explain string theory to them.

And finally, sit and hang out with new people. If you sit with just your friends, then what was the point of attending the networking event? Stretch yourself to eat lunch with new people, strike up a conversation during cocktail hour with the person also at the bar, and challenge yourself to get out of your shell. 

Put the Final Touches on After the Event

Networking doesn’t stop at the event. 

Make sure that you’re following up with prospects and continuing to nurture the relationship long after you part ways.

Here are a few pointers:

👉 Be thoughtful. Let them know that you remembered your conversation. Doing so will let them know that you value them as a contact and were genuinely engaged and listening during your conversation. 

👉 If there was no clear action associated with your follow-up, get in touch anyway. Find something valuable to share. For example, maybe you talked about a reporting software vendor and demoed the product after the event. Follow-up and let them know your thoughts. Maybe you came across an article that was relevant to your conversation. Pass it along and open the door for discussion.

In addition to following up, I like to make sure that I’m doing the following after a networking event:

✅ Following prospects on social media, and engaging with them.

✅ Reaching out every few months to send something of value or ask if they will be attending an upcoming event.

It takes work to build a strong network, but it’s well worth the effort.

If you’re intimidated by in-person networking events, you’re not alone. But it’s so important not to miss out on these opportunities to make valuable connections. 

I hope these tips will give you the confidence to say “yes” to the next networking event on your calendar. 

That’s a wrap on this Dear Katie question.

__

Now I want to hear from you. Do you have a question? 

Submit it here

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