Top 7 networking skills for small business owners

Top 7 networking skills for small business owners

We’re all familiar with letting imposter syndrome get the better of us. Have you ever signed up for a networking event excited to socialise, only to talk yourself out of going on the day? So has everyone else, and there are multiple ways you can get over your worries and start owning networking events.

Whether you are outgoing or an introvert, a business owner or an executive, there are universal skills you can learn to master a networking event. We’ve broken down the top 7 skills that you can use to make valuable connections, present yourself confidently and effectively promote your business.

1. Do your research on LinkedIn

Preparation is key. It’s important that you take a strategic approach when selecting which networking event you wish you attend. Make sure the event is local and relevant to your business. Ask around and see what events people have previously gotten value out of.

LinkedIn is a fantastic tool to utilise pre-event. Make sure that your profile is at the best it can be; treat it like a digital business card. It’s a great platform for letting people know your credibility in business. You could also do your research on who is attending and connect with anyone who may be relevant to your business.

If you want to ensure that your profile is discoverable on LinkedIn, make sure you have:

  • Completed every section of your profile to achieve ‘All-Star status’
  • Cross-linked to your website as well as any other social platforms you have
  • Listed all of your relevant work experience
  • Obtained at least 10 or more written recommendations
  • Used industry targeted keywords in your bio

2. Work on your pitch

Create an elevator pitch that you can use in conversation when someone asks about your business.

The key points that you should mention during your pitch are:

  • What your company does
  • Why you do what you do
  • Why you’re good at what you do
  • Key clients that you’ve worked with
  • What you’re looking to achieve in the future

It’s particularly important to mention why your company does what it does. This not only sets it apart from competitors but it can help towards making your business come across as genuine, caring, relatable and personable. You need to pinpoint what your unique selling proposition (USP) is.

For instance, when pitching J&R we would mention that we are passionate about helping small businesses to think bigger, as well as partnering with other female-founded businesses. Think about what the most unique elements of your business are and use them to your advantage. This is much more effective for capturing your audience’s interest than boasting about your achievements.

When you’ve decided on what you want to include, draft a script for your pitch. It shouldn’t sound overly constructed, so be mindful of its structure and try to write how you would naturally speak. Your pitch should be around 90 seconds long. Make sure to practice your pitch a couple of times before you attend the event.

3. Arrive early

The thought of arriving slightly late to a networking event may be tempting to a lot of people. Arriving later on means skipping the awkward stage of drifting around the room and looking a bit lost. However, they say the early bird catches the worm for a reason! If you arrive early you may find that you have more opportunities to make valuable connections.

You’ll notice that at some networking events, it can be a bit cliquey. People tend to form little groups and get comfortable in them which makes it less likely that they will leave their circle or table and approach you. But early on, it’s unlikely that anyone will have formed groups yet which makes it less difficult to approach them. With fewer people in the room, it is also much easier to scope out who would be the most relevant to speak to as you can overhear other conversations.

4. Look approachable

Be conscious of looking as approachable as possible. Make sure your body language is letting people know that you are open to conversations.

Here are some of our top tips on how you can make yourself look approachable:

  • Smile at people as you walk by them, this is the quickest way to give a good first impression. Make sure your smile is natural and genuine, don’t force it!
  • Don’t look down. Keep your head up as much as you can, this will make you appear more confident as well as approachable.
  • Stand somewhere open. Avoid standing behind any objects as this will create a barrier between you and other people.
  • Avoid the urge to go on your phone. People will probably assume you are not open to having a conversation.
  • Angle yourself towards people. Make sure your back isn’t turned to everyone. Stand with your feet towards the people you would like to talk to.
  • Another part of looking approachable is by approaching people yourself! Try your best to go up to people and initiate conversations as well as having people come up to you.

5. Be genuine

It’s important that you remain genuine throughout the entirety of each of your conversations. When starting a conversation, try opening with a line that sounds natural. Avoid instantly pitching your business and explaining the ins and outs of your job role right off the bat.

Start with something along the lines of ‘Have you been to this event before?’ (if it’s an ongoing monthly/yearly event) or ‘Is your business based in (local area)?’. Leading with a question makes it easier to get the conversation flowing. It’s important to ask questions throughout the conversation as this is a great way to express interest in the person you’re speaking with.

Wait for the other person to finish their points before you start talking about your business. Once they ask you ‘So, what is it that you do?’ go ahead and deliver the quick pitch you have previously worked on. Don’t come across as ‘salesy’. You aren’t selling them your products or services, the main goal is to buy their interest. Talk to people as if you were making a friend instead of a business connection.

If you’ve been talking to someone for a while and feel like it isn’t going anywhere then politely end the conversation and move on. Not everyone there will be relevant to your business and your time is valuable.

You can end the conversation without coming across as rude in multiple ways. For example, you could state that it has been a pleasure to speak with them but you would like to chat to a few others. Or, suggest you will carry on the conversation at a later date. Ask for their details and let them know that you will send them a follow-up email.

6. Set realistic goals

It’s not possible to talk to every single person in the room, nor is it necessary. If you have done your research beforehand then you may know of some people that will be relevant to approach. If so, start with them, then they may be able to point you in the direction of other relevant people.

Also, people will notice if you’re trying to speak to everyone in the room. This will set the impression that you’re not interested in genuine connections and are trying to get as many sales as possible. Always aim for quality over quantity.

This also applies to handing out your business cards. Don’t throw a business card at everyone you happen to see. It’s only appropriate to give someone your card after you have spoken to them for a significant amount of time, have established a genuine connection and if they seem like they’d be interested in finding out more about what your business has to offer.

7. Follow up and stay in touch

It’s important that you follow up on any valuable connections you’ve made at the event. Initially, find your new connections on LinkedIn and send them a connection request. Wait a couple of days and drop them an email, make sure to bring something up that you discussed as this will let them know that you paid attention during your chat.

Thank you for reading!

We hope that you now feel ready to take on a networking event! Remember to relax and be yourself. We’re sure you’ll come back with some great new connections.

For more advice on the world of small businesses and content marketing, have a look at our other posts on the J&R Journal. If you’d like to find out about what networking events Liverpool has to offer, we’ve put together a list of our favourites. Or, if impostor’s syndrome is holding you back from attending a networking event, read our guide on how you can tackle it.

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