People buy from people they know, like and trust – this can never be more true. But to get trusted you have to be liked, and to be liked you have to be known. How do you get to know customers in the first place? How do you put yourself “out there?” A networking event is a great forum for it. This is where people come out for the very reason to meet people, share ideas and in a way sell themselves.

However, attending a networking event can be a waste of time or a valuable investment in building your business – unless you know how to effectively go about it.

At a networking event, you are showcasing yourself, your expertise and ultimately your personal brand. It is therefore wise to employ a few tips when you attend the next – and all other future networking events you will go to.

 Have a clear purpose

 There are several networking events taking place each day. All networking functions come with a price, time. Your time is valuable. You have to assess key reasons as to why you need to be there. There should be a purpose.  If you don’t have much time to give, you should never spread yourself too thin by going to the wrong places. You need to select appropriately:

  • Industry        – Are you mingling with the right people you want to connect with?
  • Cost               – The most expensive networking events do not equate to effectiveness. Make sure the cost is commensurate to results.
  • Testimonials            – Does the networking event truly live up to all the hype?
  • Substance    – People often select networking socials based on its structure to determine if it aligns best to their professional or personal needs.

Listen and then ask the right questions

The golden rule at a networking event, or any other business interaction for that matter is to listen more than you talk. This is classic sales stuff that everyone should know. If you think about the really successful people in your life, are they very chatter boxes or are they listeners? They are more likely to be listeners more than talkers.

You will only reach success when you understand what other people really want. Sometimes you will get people asking for your services but not knowing exactly why. This is your job to listen and make sure they know their reasons for it and what they are trying to achieve.Being an active listener and asking the right questions sounds like simple stuff but it can be harder to actually do. Active listening takes effort but when you do it the right questions will pop up and the payback is there.

Don’t Make it all about You

When you see an investor you want to meet, don’t corner them and give them a 15-minute pitch about your company. If you talk for 5 minutes straight without coming up for breath, that’s NOT effective networking.

If the person you’re talking to whips out their phone and starts refreshing their Twitter feed or awkwardly checking for new texts, you’ve lost them. At that point, it’s best to just give them your business card and move on to the next person you want to meet. Remember that other people are there to network too, so don’t suck up all their time.

Be Ready

Have enough business cards. Besides the obvious, scan the list of attendees (if it’s public) and make a note of who you want to meet and why. It’s much better going into a networking event with a plan of attack than walking around idly while trying to make eye contact.Also, be ready to talk about yourself and what your startup does –  in detail. Don’t just say that you’re  doing “awesome stuff” at your company when someone asks; have interesting details to talk about and share your accomplishments– without bragging too much.

Don’t be afraid to tell people about some of the interesting challenges you’re dealing with. Running or working at a startup isn’t easy, so don’t pretend you have everything figured out. Sharing the stuff you’re grappling with will make for good conversation, and you may find someone who’s willing offer advice or even meet later to help.

 Partner up with the competition

 You will inevitably bump into people doing similar things to you at networking events. Instead of trying to outdo each other, try to find out where there can be synergies between the two of you.

Do your customers have the same demographic? Same pricing?Probably not. This means you can share information on suppliers, discuss general market conditions and you can even set up a joint venture and seek global domination. Make yourself useful to them and help out as much as possible; your efforts are always appreciated and you will be repaid at some stage.

You will invariably bump into and sometimes lock horns with the competition at client sites. The networking event provides a ‘safe’ environment where you can you can practise interaction with the competition without causing too much damage in front of a customer.