Editor’s Note: A version of this column appeared on Van Klaveren’s blog this spring.
To expand their business reach, pest management professionals (PMPs) are often advised to join the Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce or other local business community club and start networking. But walking into a room full of strangers can constitute a nightmare for introverts and extroverts alike. Whom should you walk up to? What do you say? Why are you here? What do you hope to get from the experience? Why not turn around and go home?
Networking isn’t about selling. It’s about connecting with people with the ultimate goal of establishing a long-term relationship with them. This takes time and a system to make networking successful.
By using any or all of the tips below (in no particular order), you’ll find networking actually an enjoyable and worthwhile experience – really, you will, I promise!
1. Be comfortable giving a firm, assertive handshake. No wet-fish handshakes allowed! Seven steps to an effective handshake can be found here.
2. Approach others who seem alone. When entering a networking room, it’s easy to be overwhelmed, but remember, you are not the only one who feels this way. Scout the room for others who look uncomfortable or alone and approach them. They’ll appreciate it!
3. Be ready with something to say. Try a standard opener like: “What brings you here?” “What do you do?” “What are you looking for today? Perhaps I can help.”
4. Follow up. Attending a networking event and not following up is wasted time. Connect on social media with those you met and send a follow-up email to set up a meeting.
5. Select the right networking meeting for your goals. The most effective group will be the one in your business niche or the niche you hope to enter.
6. Focus on quality over quantity. If you come away with just two contacts that you have the potential to help, you will have made your networking time worthwhile. So instead of trying to collect 20 business cards, hone in on only the people you’re really interested in.
7. Prepare your elevator speech. When someone asks what it is you do, give them about 30 seconds — about the length of an elevator ride — of a descriptive “commercial” about your business. Remember to focus on the benefits of what you do!
8. Target prospects. If possible, view a list of attendees before the event so you know who will be there and who you’d like to meet. Once there, don’t be afraid to ask, “Do you know xxx (your target)?”
9. Make notes on the business cards you collect so you’ll remember the person. You’ll want to refer to them to tailor your follow-up message that much more.
10. Smile genuinely. A friendly smile will make you approachable.
11. Act (and be) interested. Ask about the other person. Listen and make eye contact. Avoid looking around the room while the other person is talking.
12. Use an icebreaker. Get to know people on a personal level first by talking about topics such as movies, sports teams, restaurants or concerts.
BONUS TIP: Go into a networking event with a “giving” rather than “getting” attitude. Make a goal to find people whom you can help. The laws of reciprocity mean that if you help someone, they’ll feel obligated to help you in return!