When Networking Becomes Work

When we first started our firm we tried our hardest to network at every event, we passed out more than 2000 business cards, shook twice as many hands, our faces ached from smiling and the words “Nice to meet you” seemed to be our motto.

I had a set routine, after every event I would create specialized emails and send them of the email address on the cards we collected, after which I would wait.  Wait for a response, for someone to click on the links in the email, for someone to connect with us on social media, and of course for business to increase.

After about 7 months we sat down and took a look at just how networking had increased our business.  Not only did we find that not one of the “Nice meeting you emails” got a response, but also, of the 2000 business cards we handed out, we were only contacted by about 20 individuals or businesses.

So, what did we learn? Here are a few tips on networking as an entrepreneur.

Be mindful of the events you attend

We decided early that events for professionals weren’t for us.  Instead of being able to introduce our business as a possible partner or service, we found ourselves overwhelmed with employment requests.  As entrepreneurs deciding to attend events frequented by corporate decision makers, elected officials and other business owners benefited us more.

Create a networking budget

Events can get both expensive and time consuming, by instating a budget for your networking you put more of a goal oriented approach to building your network – and will limit your efforts from getting out of hand.  A clearly defined budget will also help during tax season. Budget things like event covers (side note: we refuse to attend a designated networking event where you have to pay a cover, its pointless), drinks and food, time spent at each event, and how many business cards you are willing to let go of.

Don’t network if you aren’t ready

Networking is more than just smiling and shaking hands, there has to be a follow up.  For example, not having a website or forum available for people to see your body of work, find out more about you after the first meeting.  Wouldn’t you believe we met someone without a pitch for their business!! Be ready or don’t risk your reputation being thwarted by appearing unprepared.

Don’t spread yourself too thin

Being active in the small business ownership community isn’t like being active in college.  You don’t have to be seen at every event, or participate in every Meet-up/Happy Hour/Brunch/Seminar to be successful.  Instead, think strategically and devise a plan according to you projects, production time or store hours – on times when you’ll be able to attend an event.  Your business, products or services should never take a backseat to your social life.

Lastly, understand that networking can happen everywhere!

Attending networking events is not the only way to meet your net client or customer.  I’ve met folks at bookstores, Starbucks, via my #tweetme2meetme tweets while hanging out in Downtown San Antonio, and I’ve used more than business cards and social media to stay in contact with my new network.

But, as always – we want to hear what works for you.  How have your fetes of networking worked out?  Leave a comment – We’re avid networkers.

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