Startup Networking: How to get the most out of conferences.

In a startup,  networking is one of the most important skills that can be utilized in order to grow your business.  Whether it is hiring, raising money, establishing partnerships, or drumming up a new business- networking can help you accomplish many professional goals. Making meaningful connections and maintaining them is crucial in the startup business world.  This was not always easy for me. Being a recovering introvert, I originally did not see the value in networking and to be honest, I just was not comfortable doing it.  This all changed when I met Syed at the BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas back in 2009.  He really opened my eyes to the power of networking, how crucial it is to grow a business, how easy it can be and how much fun it actually is. So, in this post, I will tell you how I get the most out of conferences and make connections.

The planning:

1) Pick your conference/networking event wisely.  

This should be the first thing that you consider when thinking about networking because conferences are a great place to make business contacts.  There are thousands upon millions of networking events, but you have to consider which ones would benefit your company the most.  Which conference will most likely have the attendees that you would like me meet?  There are many online tools  and websites to aid you in finding conferences that are best suited for you and your business.

  • Plancast.com– On this site, users can share their most interesting plans and events that they have on their calendars.  In turn, it can then help you find out local events and other social activities straight from the people who will be attending these events.  It also automatically shows you which events the people that you are following on social media are attending, if they are a part of the Plancast community.
  • Lanyrd.com–  This site has a host of events from all around the world.  They have a Social Conference Directory which shows conferences and events happening worldwide.  It allows for users to add an event, find events and even track  their friends’ events or even the event’s attendees.
  • Meetup.com– It is the world’s largest network of local groups. Meetup allows for its users to organize a local group or find meetups that are already happening.  Most events on here are free for attendees.
  • Eventbrite.com– This is an online ticketing service that allows for its users to plan, set up ticket sales, and promote/publish events across various social media networks. It is also a good source to find events worth attending

Quality conferences usually have a higher ticket price but in my opinion, this is worth the investment. This is especially true if you are doing B2B business.  When the minimum price is $200+  for just  trade floor tickets, you can be sure that this conference will work better in terms of B2B connections.  While it is also great to attend conferences with a $20 ticket price, that conference will draw a different crowd.  In the end, just know why you are attending, and what you are hoping to get out of the conference you are planning to attend.

2) Do your research- look up the attendees and the after party details.   If possible, set up meetings before the event.

This is where you get to pick and choose who you would like to meet and it is important to also have specific targets.  Time is of the essence when you are at a conference because you do not have time to meet everyone at the conference and find out if they are a meaningful contact to you or your business.  Be proactive.  If you run into a contact during your research that you would really like to meet, it is okay to reach out and ask if that person(s) can set some time during the conference to meet with you.  This way, it would be a lot more efficient and convenient than tracking down your specific target at the conference and risk them maybe not having enough time for you.  A smart thing to do is to get a list of the exhibitors and speakers of the event and try to get into contact with them before the event to set up a meeting.

If you are traveling out of town for a conference, do not just restrict your networking to the conference’s attendees.  Use this chance to connect with other people that are in the city you will be visiting, and try to connect with them as well.  Here are some great tools that can help you do this:

  • Connect app. – The Connect app allows for its users to see their favorite connections from social networks on a map.  You can use this app to look up people’s location from your social networks so that if you want, you can connect with them while you are in town. This app also pings you when your out-of-town friends visit your city.
  • LinkedIn.com– LinkedIn also has a search function that allows for you to search for people working near the location of the conference.

If possible, broadcast what events you will be attending.  This is a great way to connect with people pre-event and let people know that you are going to be there.  This is an excellent way for new contacts or even people within your network to connect with you.  Networking is often a two-way, win/win situation like that.   The main goal of any connection or making a business contact is to create a symbiotic, reciprocal, and mutually beneficial relationship with one another.

Also, use this same research skill to look for the after party details and make sure to follow the #hashtag of the event on Twitter.

During the event:

3) Talk to people! 🙂 

Just jump right in, don’t be shy. People are at these events to connect, so do not hold back.  This is a really good article  that will give you some communication tips on  how to keep a conversation going and how to be more personable while talking to strangers.

Be a good listener.  Let them talk, but also ask smart questions.

Meeting new people is usually easier when you are on your own.  If you came to the event with someone, split up.  It is much easier to approach someone or have someone approach you if you are alone rather than already engaged with someone or if it seems like you are already part of a group.

4) Take down notes, preferably on the person’s business card.

Be sure to write down the event, the event’s date, the follow-up plans and any other key notes associated with the person on their business card.  The closing sentence of your  business conversation should  always expand your network.  You can ask question such as, “Do you know anyone that I should talk to about ZYZ”  “Who else can I follow up with about XYZ?” 

5) Always ask what they are planning to do after the conference is over.

Since you already did your research, ask them if they are going to the after party.  Are they attending the mixer after?  Do they want to go out for some drinks?  Tried and true the best way to meet  and get to know someone is over a  cup of something and  also, just dinner can go a long way.

After the event:

6) Make the social media connection.

Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – whatever you and they primarily use. I met Ted Rubin at a conference and he was the prime example on how fast a follow-up can be done. I highly recommend reading his book, Return on Relationship, it is a great read and it further emphasized to me the true importance of meeting people.

7) Always, always, always follow-up and always, always, always follow-through.  

If possible, try to follow-up with your connection later on that night.  Integrity is key in starting and maintaining meaningful relationships.  There are many tools to help you do this.

  • Ming.ly–  Takes the “work” out of networking. This is a web service that bring email an social networks together.  Mingly makes it easy to stay connected to people that matter to you.  Mingly allows for you to do things like build relationships by setting follow-up reminders for new contacts. You can set a timeframe i.e. I want to be in touch with this person every 3 months and in case you have not skyped, called, emailed or tweeted this person within this time period it will remind you to do so.
  • Followup.cc– FollowUp.cc is a simple email reminder service. To use the service you simply BCC an email you send to somebody with date@followup.cc and the service will email you back on the date you specified.
  • Boomerrang for Gmail– This plugin allows for you write messages now and schedule them to deliver at any time, even when you don’t have an Internet connection.  You can also schedule messages to automatically return to the top of your inbox at a later time, so that no messages will ever fall through the crack.  Lastly, it can also help you remind yourself to follow up with people that don’t respond within a certain amount of time.  This way, you’ll never forget to follow up again.

If you ever doubt why it is important to follow up, just look at these numbers.  They will shock you.

 

 

I’m a serial entrepreneur and I write about things I have learned along the way. I’m passionate about helping entrepreneurs and executives to find success and harmony in business and at home.

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