As we start to find our groove again in 2022, it’s time to put networking back on the forefront of our small businesses. While we may have gotten comfortable pairing nice jewelry with our finest pajama pants for the next Zoom event, it’s safe to say that most event professionals are ready and raring to get back to in-person opportunities.
So, if you’ve missed the social setting and are ready to get back to mixing and mingling, use these techniques to make networking a top priority in 2022.
Set Clear Goals
If you don’t view networking as a way to achieve your business goals, it will always feel like a backup plan to “more important” tasks. It’s true — there will always be another client deliverable to send, another lead magnet to write, and another email to answer.
Yet, by setting goals for your networking efforts, you are effectively saying: “This is important to me and my business.” Such a mindset will help you shut down your computer on time, get ready, and head off to build new relationships.
Consider what you hope to get out of networking and how it fits into your big picture. Are you looking for potential hires to bring into your business? Do you have a collaborative idea sitting on ice until you find the perfect partner? Are you trying to increase your referral business? Networking can accomplish all of these goals, but your intention will determine the type of event you attend and how you approach it.
Build Your Strategy
You know the “why” — now, you need to map out the “how.” Write your goal down and start brainstorming the steps you can take to reach it.
For example, if you’re looking to find new team members, you may need to bring a few copies of the job description with you. You’d also need to set your sights on networking events that attract younger folks who are still in the early stages of their careers.
Your strategy should define the types of networking events you need to attend, the icebreakers you bring to introduce yourself, and the elevator pitches you use to tell your story. How you approach a seasoned planner with three businesses would likely look different than the newly-hired catering manager of your favorite venue.
Revisit How You Present Who You Are
If it’s been a while since you’ve dusted off that side of your closet, take a moment to pull out our networking duds and give them a run-through. Do they still fit? Has your style changed? Do you need to repair your go-to shoes?
Effective networking is rooted in your confidence and it’s hard to be your best if your attire makes you feel otherwise. The last thing you want is to find out your favorite dress’ hem has frayed, just hours before you’re supposed to attend an event.
Discard (or store) anything that doesn’t make you feel like a rockstar — because that’s the type of energy you need to bring! If desired, treat yourself to a few new statement pieces to freshen up your wardrobe and step into your next networking event feeling like a million bucks.
Ease Back Into It
Feeling rusty when it comes to talking about your business? You’re not alone. Recognize that most of the people you see will be in a similar boat, wondering how they were able to float around a room with such ease before virtual events took over.
If networking is giving you stage fright, do what you need to do to ease into it. You don’t need to go back at 100 miles per hour (unless that’s your rhythm!). Start with small group settings with your local chamber or association chapter. Memorize a few opening lines. Practice in the mirror before you leave to mitigate the nerves.
Don’t worry — it won’t take long before your networking muscles are firm and toned again! Give yourself grace as you step out of your comfort zone and do what’s best for your business. You’ll be running the national conference circuit before you know it!
Jennifer Taylor is the principal of Jen Taylor Consulting, a consulting firm that works with creative businesses of all sizes to implement streamlined workflows and organized systems to find more time and space for business growth and personal development.