There is a lot of debate about how effective networking events can be. It can be difficult to measure the return on investment from them. This can be especially difficult if you are not a naturally talkative person or if you find networking events daunting.

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Check out our top three tips for getting the best out of networking events below.

1. Plan, plan, plan.

Before you attend the event, take some time to plan. You need to be clear on two different factors – what you want to achieve from the event and who you want to meet. You should set yourself a goal for the event. This goal could be to hand out five business cards to different people or to arrange a meeting with one person. Whatever your goal is, it should be in line with the return you want to gain from networking. Having this goal in mind will help keep you focussed on achieving something from each event, rather than just socialising aimlessly.

Take some time to find out who is attending the networking event and what they do. Assess what each person does for a living and how a synergy may exist between you both. Could they be a potential customer or possibly refer others to you? Could you work in a partnership with them? You can then plan how you will approach them and what you might talk about when you do. This will allow you to put together some initial discussion topics, so you can feel confident and sure of what you are saying when you do approach them.

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2. Be memorable and do not sell.

People do not like to be sold to – even when you are attending a networking event. You will need to show a genuine interest in the people you talk to and develop a relationship before selling. You can show genuine interest by asking them questions about what they do and actively engaging with them. Before you can start selling to them you first need to let them get to know you, like you and then trust you. Trust is the key to somebody choosing to give you work or referring to you.

People are most likely to remember you if you were useful to them during the event. If you know somebody who would benefit from meeting one of your contacts, introduce them. If you are familiar with the setup of a particular networking event, help those who are new to it. Offer free advice as part of the discussion with the people you meet. By making yourself useful and showing your expertise during each networking event, others will see you as a “go to” person. This makes you more memorable and, therefore, more likely to benefit from additional work as a result.

3. Follow up and develop the relationship.

As well as planning who you want to meet whilst networking, you should also plan who you want to further develop relationships with. Make sure to get the business cards of the people you are interested in and follow them up after the event. This could be just by sending them a short email or by connecting to them on LinkedIn. If you want something further to come from that original meeting, you will need to keep developing the relationship and keep you in their minds. With this in mind, make a further plan on how you are going to develop those relationships. Are you planning on attending more networking events at the same time as them? Can you initiate further conversation on a casual basis through LinkedIn? However, you choose to do it, remember the stages: Meet – Know – Like – Trust – Sell.

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Networking and developing relationships as a business owner can help to extend your network, raise brand awareness and bring in additional work. However, it needs to be done well to be effective.

OakHouse Professional can pick up all of those time-consuming administrative tasks that keep you busy, allowing you to spend more time focussing on developing business relationships. Find out how we can help by checking out our Services page.