Attending an in-person event can be a great opportunity for creative business owners. You’ll be exposed to new ideas, learn useful skills, sharpen your creative tools, and, perhaps most importantly, meet new people. But what happens next? The days after an event are among the most important for making those new connections stick.
Typically, conversations at networking events like conferences and trade shows are quick and relatively shallow — maybe you chat about your businesses for a few minutes and then exchange cards — but they have the potential to become much deeper. Once the event is over, it’s up to you to solidify your new connections by following up with the people you’ve just met. Remember that business cards are simply little pieces of paper if you don’t do anything with them.
Getting the most out of networking at an event begins before you pack your bags. Take some time to update your online presence. Chances are, the people you’ll be meeting and following up with will likely want to see what your business is all about. When was the last time you reviewed the About page on your website? Add any new accomplishments and be sure you have fresh posts on your social media accounts and blogs.
While packing, tuck some fine-point Sharpies into your suitcase. They’re perfect for making notes on the backs of business cards after you meet people (Sharpies will write on glossy cards). And remember to pack lots of your own business cards!
Consider making a list of people you’d like to connect with at the event. This doesn’t mean you’re being a stalker! It means you’re setting specific goals for yourself and making the most out of your limited time.
Once you arrive at the conference, you may be given a lanyard to wear. If so, tuck a stack of your business cards behind your nametag so that you can easily hand them out without fumbling around in your bag or pocket.
While at the event, remember that the goal is to start relationships with people. However tempting it might be to stick with the friends you came with or to have a long conversation with one new person, it’s a better use of your time to move around and mingle.
The real work of developing new relationships begins once you return. First, it’s important that you not wait too long to follow up with the people you’ve met. While the event is still fresh in everyone’s mind, send an email to each person you’d like to connect with further. Keep it short. Reference the event (“it was so nice to meet you at Midwest Craftcon”). Reference something you talked about together (“your daily practice project sounds amazing”). Close with next steps, if appropriate (“I’d love to send you a copy of my new pattern”). Be sure your email signature has links to your website and social media accounts so that your new contact can easily click those links to learn more about you.
Social media allows you to stay in touch with your new contacts in an informal way. Look to see where they’re most active and then follow and comment on one of their new posts to help strengthen your bond. If you blog about the conference, consider linking to some of the people you met and mention what you learned from them (“Sharon recommended this amazing book that I’m reading now”).
As you continue to develop your relationships with your new contacts, try to give without expecting anything in return. If they have a need of some kind, think about how you might be of help. Send a link to an article or a product that they might enjoy or find useful. Offer to introduce them to someone you know. Don’t expect anything in return. Over time, they’ll come to think of you as someone who is friendly and helpful and they’ll want to help you in return.
Remember that each person you meet knows hundreds of other people. In a way, when you meet one person you’re potentially meeting their entire network. Whether you’re attending a trade show, a business conference or a local networking event, make an effort to follow up with the contacts you’ve made to deepen the relationships. It’ll be worth your while.