Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Networking Part Two: Schmoozing

In addition to reaching out to all the people I already know, I'm also trying to meet new people. You just never know who might send some business your way or pass your contact information on to someone they know.

Schmoozing people isn't something I've really ever been comfortable with, but I'm starting to develop my technique out of necessity. I've found you really can do it without being obnoxious. It's natural to hand someone my card, tell them what I do, ask them for a card and request that they keep me in mind if they are ever in need of my services. Sending a follow up e-mail the next day or in a couple days is also a good thing to do, but I stay away from making any demands or asking them point blank to do anything for me.

One thing I try to steer clear of while networking is seeming self-absorbed. This is difficult for me because I tend to obsess about my own problems and situation, but being on the receiving end of this is not a lot of fun. Meeting someone at an event and talking about myself and my business for 15 minutes straight without even asking about them or seeming interested in what they have to say is not going to win me any friends. This may seem obvious, but you'd be surprised at how many people think it's okay.

Another thing I like to try to keep in mind is that everyone else is probably attending the event for the same reason I am. They're all trying to make contact in one way or another. I also don't discount anyone, even if it doesn't seem that they can help my business in any way. I am, after all, a social animal underneath, and basic human contact still fulfills a need. (Even if it doesn't get me any business, I could make a friend.)

The next question is where. I would recommend attending anything where you may have a chance to talk to other business people. I personally try to stick with gatherings that don't have much or any expense associated with them since I'm not bringing in much money right now. Here are some examples of some networking opportunities I have had in the last few weeks:
  • Local business showcase—Businesses set up booths in the local convention center for an all day event. There was also a reception at the end of the day. The cost to get in was $5, but you could print a free pass from the organizer's Web site.
  • After work event for local creative group—I was already a member of our local group of creative professionals before I left my job, and this event was free to members. It was an informal gathering at a downtown bar and a good chance to meet people.
  • Creative reception at the local university—This event was free to members of the creative community. The purpose of it was to give students in creative fields the opportunity to network with those in local creative businesses, but there was also quite a bit of interaction between professionals.
  • Web optimization seminar for business owners—This event was put on for free by a web optimization company. It included some helpful tips for getting my site noticed, but also gave me a chance to interact with business owners before and after the seminar.
  • PR presentation—Our area has an every other month presentation put on by the local small business association. The presentation is free and conducted by an area expert on a different topic. Attendees are usually PR and communications professionals.

Attending these events has been much easier since I'm not working all day. It's given me a good opportunity to meet people and absorb some good information at the same time. It's also been pretty easy on my finances.

These things are out there if you look, and most areas probably have similar groups and events. Networking Part Three will cover one of the tools I have used to find these happenings.

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