Business networking events always hold the promise of making new connections and potentially growing your small business. Whether you’re an active Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce member or attend any one of a host of networking events throughout the city, many small business owners are asking how to make the most of these venues.
Sure, a handful of new business cards and contacts to add to your LinkedIn profile are certainly worth the investment in membership fees and the time spent attending the events. Yet after these events, many small business owners are asking how to make these new, loose connections tighter. And they want to know how to take them to the next level and easily fold them into a social media marketing strategy.
Many novice networkers pounce on a new contact in an effort to build their lists and gain access to more connections. A more effective approach, however, is to determine the contact’s interests and business needs, take a few notes after you’ve met, and then follow up a day or so later.
Building on this, following are seven recommendations for making the most of your next networking event to create sustainable and genuine connections.
1. Personalize whenever possible. As follow up, send a personalized note that reflects the gist of your in-person conversation and ask for permission to add them to your newsletter contact list.
2. Entice them to become a fan of your Facebook Business Page by offering an incentive that reflects their interests. Consider offering several different incentives to address various preferences.
3. Comb through your contacts. See if there’s a connection you can proactively introduce that will benefit your new contact. This often inspires your new connections to return the favor.
4. Don't discard any connections. While they may not be directly aligned with your business today, they might (or their connections might) be in the future.
5. Look for opportunities to partner. Find complementary businesses and team on joint marketing activities. For example, you can create a local group deal and reach a wider audience by pooling each other’s contacts.
6. Feature new contacts in your marketing campaigns. For example, your newsletter could spotlight their business. By adding social sharing and subscribe buttons to your newsletter, your new connections can easily pass along your content while potentially increasing your subscriber base.
7. Never miss an opportunity to say thank you. Always acknowledge messages and thank your connections for Liking your business page, forwarding your newsletter or Tweeting about your company.
Spring is full of networking opportunities so open your calendar, fill it up, and make the most of your next in person meeting.
Steve is Constant Contact’s small business expert in Illinois and Wisconsin. A knowledgeable marketing expert with 30 years of experience, Steve has helped thousands of small businesses, associations, and nonprofits develop and implement effective email marketing, social media and online survey strategies. A popular speaker and educator, Steve gives small businesses and nonprofits the tools, techniques, and strategies they need to grow and expand their business and to maximize the power of relationship marketing. Steve’s experience in small business ownership, business development, sales, and fundraising help associations, small businesses and nonprofits achieve success.