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Getting the Most From Networking Events

These seven steps will ensure that your networking actually works.

By Bill Cates, CSP

Even though I speak to groups of financial professionals ranging from 20 to 5,000, I’m a pretty shy person when it comes to networking events. Over the years I’ve learned to get pretty good at these types of business-building events. Here’s what you can do to turn networking events from boring affairs to business-building opportunities.

Know who you want to meet. Before you decide to go to a networking event, you need to know the types of people who will be there and make sure you want to meet them. Choosing the wrong kind of event will be a waste of your valuable time. There are three types of people you want to meet at networking events; make sure at least one of these categories is represented:

  • potential clients
  • potential centers of influence
  • people who represent interesting products and services you might be able to refer to your clients.
Networking is not a one-time event; it’s a process.
Understand that networking is a process. My colleague, Lynne Waymon, author of Great Connections, relates a story of a salesperson who once said, “I tried networking once; it doesn’t work.” Although you can often turn a single networking event into a successful experience, you usually get the most from a group when you attend several meetings, become active in the group and begin to create a reputation. Networking is not a one-time event; it’s a process.

Go to give, not to take. One of the biggest mistakes I see at events is that many people are there just to get and not to give. Yet the folks who usually get the most from networking events are those who go looking for ways to help others. Here is one of the best things you can say to someone at an event (if he is in sales or owns a small business): “If I ran into someone who was a good prospect for your business, how would I know it? Tell me who a good prospect for you is.” After you learn about them, you can talk about what you do and how you help people.

Have a goal for each event. I’ve found that when I have a specific goal for an event, my results are always more pronounced. I usually set a goal of how many new people I want to meet. This keeps me from staying comfortable with people I already know. Don't get me wrong, it’s great to maintain and grow relationships with people you already know, but if you don’t stretch a little each time, your results will begin to diminish.

Act like the host, not a guest. When you’re the host of a party, you meet everyone; you make sure they’re enjoying themselves, etc. When you act like the host at a business event, you’ll feel freer to meet strangers. One great way to meet people is to work the registration table for 30 to 45 minutes. By welcoming people to the event, you’ll feel much more comfortable in going up to them later.

Write notes on business cards. When you meet someone that you’d like to maintain contact with, make sure you get his business card and write notes about your conversation on the back of the card. That way, the next day, you’ll know exactly what you talked about and what your plan of action is. When you give contacts your business card because they want to contact you about something later, write a note on your card as you give the card to them. This will remind them why they have your card.

Follow up after events. A big networking mistake is that people fail to follow up. They forget that they have someone’s card, get distracted by other business or wimp out. Whatever the reason, if you fail to follow up, you’ve just wasted your time. The day after an event, the first thing I do is to go through the cards I’ve collected. I send everyone an email or a hand-written note and put the appropriate action step into my computer.

For more ideas from Bill Cates, be sure to listen to his podcast with “Four Strategies to Create a Referral Explosion”.

Bill Cates is the author of Get More Referrals Now! and Don’t Keep Me a Secret! For a free copy of his report “7 Deadly Referral Mistakes,” as well as a subscription to his free referral newsletter, go to Contact Cates at


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