This is a guest post by Diane Snead, Founder & CEO of 
RipTide. A networking app.

While attending networking events for your business is a great way to bring you connections and leads, they can also be time-consuming.  The last thing you need is another set of business cards to add to the stack on your desk.  With just a little bit of planning ahead, you’ll be in a better place to discover all of the potential benefits of networking.  Use these strategies to make the most of your next networking event and never feel like you wasted your time again!

  1. Do Your Homework.  Get a feel for who will be there – some events even let you find out who has RSVP’ed.  You may find there’s a person or two coming who you’ll want to be sure to meet.  If you don’t know the guest list, think about who this event is for and who is likely to attend.  Will this event be for solopreneurs like yourself or will there be sales pros or other business owners?  Tweak your 30-second commercial to match the audience.
  2. Have a Purpose.  What do you hope to achieve and who do you need to talk to in order to achieve it?  Are you looking to connect with someone in particular?  Get introduced to a certain company?  Maybe you’re looking for a product or service for your own business?  Ask the people you meet if they can help.  People love making genuine connections, so not only will you come across as non-salesy but you may just end up making a key connection.
  3. Build Relationships.  Never go into a networking event expecting to sell.  Instead lead with value first.  If someone needs your services they’ll be sure to ask for your card.  Make the connection here and then expect to spend time building relationships.   
  4. Show up Early.  Meet the host or organizer – they probably know the people you want to meet and can personally introduce you.  Plus, you’ll be able to welcome everyone coming in so you’ll meet more people than just mingling.
  5. Don’t get stuck.  While you want to be memorable and learn enough about someone so you can follow up with them later, you don’t want to talk to the same person all night.  Bowing out of conversations gracefully feels uncomfortable at first but is a skill that can be learned with practice.  Saying something like, “Well, I don’t want to monopolize your time, but it was great to meet you and I’ll follow up with you soon.”  It’s tempting to keep talking to a new connection (or even catching up with a friend) especially when you don’t know anyone else, but you’re doing yourself – and the other person – a disservice by not allowing for the opportunity to meet other people.
  6. Follow up.  Now that you’re leaving with a stack of biz cards, your time and effort getting those cards will be wasted if you don’t follow up with everyone.  A good rule of thumb is to follow up within 72 hours.  Just a quick email to say it was great to meet them goes a long way.  Plus, it opens the conversation to initiate a one-on-one.  The best follow-ups are personal.  Incorporate tidbits from your conversation when you reach out to your new connection.  It shows you were listening and can help jog their memory (they left with a stack of cards, too!).  Letting them know you’re happy to be a resource for them keeps the door open for a business relationship down the road.

Being effective with your networking time is imperative when growing your business.  Be prepared, go in with a goal, and look forward to building key relationships.