How to Network Through the Holiday Party Circuit
(Photo credit:) iStock.com/mediaphotos
‘Tis the season for… networking.
Small-business owners tend to see their social calendars fill up this time of year with invitations to parties and events for clients, local chambers and local business organizations.
“Business slows down for almost everyone – except retailers – during the holidays,” says networking expert Dorie Clark. “Because there are fewer meetings and out-of-town conferences, there is more of an opportunity to network locally and focus on building relationships in your community.”
End-of-year celebrations are a great opportunity to make connections. But for even the most extroverted, the endless small talk and hors d’oeuvres on the holiday party circuit can get tedious after a few weeks. Remember, each of these events offers a fantastic networking opportunity that could really pay off for your business next year.
Follow these steps to ensure that you’re making the most of the networking opportunities presented by the holidays:
- Get involved. Volunteering to help plan or set up a party can enhance your profile within an organization. Alternatively, if there are gift bags or a silent auction, contributing branded merchandise or a certificate for services can spread awareness of your company. “It’s a great opportunity to expose people to what your business can offer,” says Ted Zoeller, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- Do your homework. Some event organizers will publish a list of confirmed attendees or make one available to those who request it. (If they’re organizing via an Evite, you may also be able to view an online guest list.) If there’s a particular client (or potential client) you want to connect with, send him a note the week of the event to let him know you’ll be looking for him (or offer to grab a drink beforehand). This lets that person know you’ve been thinking of him, and helps insure that he’ll make some time to chat with you during the event itself. Even if he’s not attending, the gesture offers an opportunity to start a conversation.
- Tag-team it. Clark recommends attending the event with a trusted friend in the industry. The benefits of bringing a “wingman” are twofold: First, you’ll double the chances that you’ll know people in attendance. Second, you can talk each other up. “You have to do less selling when someone else is praising you and citing your accomplishments,” says Clark, author of “Stand out Networking.” “You can sit back while he or she highlights you and your business.”
- Bring business cards (but only hand them out when asked). Nothing screams “I’m only here to network” like handing out your business card every time you meet someone new. Keep a stash on hand in case they are requested, but be judicious about distributing them. You’re going to follow up with new connections (see No. 6) anyway, so everyone will have your contact information.
- Don’t talk about yourself right away. People love to talk about themselves, and letting them do so is a great way to find the best place to start a lasting relationship. Clark suggests that networkers “play chicken” to see how long they can keep their conversation going without talking about themselves. “If the person has reasonable social skills, they’ll eventually notice that they’ve been talking about themselves and then ask about you,” Clark says.
If you’ve been listening closely, you’re now able to tailor your remarks to make them more interesting or helpful to the person you’ve just met.
- Find something to follow up on. Aim to walk away with a reason to follow up. This could mean sending a new acquaintance information about your business, but it could also be connecting him with another colleague that could help his business, or a note touting the recent win of a sports team that you both follow. Finding something in your conversation to follow up on means you can personalize a LinkedIn connection request, rather than sending the automatic one generated by the site.
- Plan your own event. Hosting a holiday lunch or dinner with valued advisers, clients or vendors is a great way to connect more intimately with clients you want to network with. “The holidays are a great opportunity for business owners and entrepreneurs to take stock of what they’ve accomplished and to recognize the people who brought them there,” Zoeller says. If you’re not one for party planning, simply reserving a large table at a restaurant for lunch or dinner and sending out nice invitations will suffice.