Holding a networking event can be rewarding for your business. You can build mutually beneficial relationships that can lead to referrals and increased awareness about what you do.
Types of networking events vary widely, from "meet and greet" and client-appreciation events, to events at which you are promoting an idea or a product.
Before planning a networking event, says Darren Gazdag, senior vice president of business development with Excel Funds Management Inc. in Mississauga, Ont., you should determine the message you wish to convey. Then, invite only individuals who can derive some benefit from the event. The goal is to network with people who have the potential to end up as your clients.
To maximize exposure, Gazdag suggests, ask invitees to bring along interested friends and colleagues, and use social media to spread the word.
Beyond the typical formalities of time, place and sending out invitations, here are four tips to make the event more meaningful and worthwhile to you.
> Send introductory notes to confirmed invitees
Once invitees have confirmed their plans to attend, send them more detailed information about the event, Gazdag says. Make it personal by letting each invitee know that you are looking forward to meeting them.
"As well," Gazdag says, "send a reminder to confirmed attendees a few days before the event."
> Initiate one-on-one conversations
On the day of the event, add another personal touch by greeting attendees as they arrive. This gesture not only is good etiquette; it also gives you an opportunity to meet any individuals you might not know or have connected with only through e-mail or social media.
Once the event begins, it becomes easier to initiate one-on-one conversations, especially with those you have contacted individually prior to the event. To ensure there is sufficient time for conversation, Gazdag suggests restricting the length of any presentation you may have. For example, he says, your presentation can be followed by a wine-tasting event to facilitate mingling and conversation in a more comfortable environment.
> Ask for a meeting
You will most likely have some interesting conversations during the event. Just avoid pushing product, Gazdag says. Instead, ask questions that begin: "Did you know …?" This will allow you to subtly highlight your message.
Whenever appropriate, take the opportunity to ask for a meeting to discuss any potential areas of interest. Because setting up meetings can take time, Gazdag recommends that you get help from your assistant.
> Follow up
Contacting attendees after the event is key to establishing relationships, Gazdag says. "Send a thank-you note," he says, "and ask if you can be of further assistance."
Make sure you have the infrastructure in place — such as a client relationship management system — to follow up and keep tabs on your interactions with event attendees.
"The sales process can sometimes be very long — often more than a year in certain cases," Gazdag says. "So, you must have a system that keeps track of individuals who attended your event."