By Francesca Zelasko
Conferences, association meetings, trade shows, and other social events can provide excellent opportunities to network with peers, clients, and prospects – and, thereby, develop leads, referrals, and new business. But to get the most from an event, you can’t just show up. You need to follow the three Ps: Plan, Prepare, and Pursue.
Your first step is to identify events that are likely to put you in contact with people you’d like to network with. And, of course, the events should fit your budget and objectives. If you’re clear about whom you want to talk to and what you want to accomplish, you’ll likely get the results you want.
For example, if you’d like to increase awareness of your business consulting services, attend a local manufacturers’ association meeting. If you’d like to make contact with high net worth individuals who might be interested in estate planning services, attend community functions and fundraising events.
To make sure the event provides the kind of networking you’re after, check with the organizer to get an idea of who will be attending and what opportunities there will be for talking with other participants. Pick events that offer the best networking, and consider having several firm members attend to maximize contact.
Preparation for the event is critical. At minimum, if you’re going to a conference and tradeshow, review the event’s agenda to see which sessions or activities would be best to attend, and create a schedule showing who from your firm will go to each one.
If a list of pre-registrants is available, research those people you’d most like to meet. Review Facebook, LinkedIn, or the company’s Web site to find out more about participants, their businesses, and their connections. Then, seek them out at the event.
Also, teach firm members effective networking techniques. These include:
- Not sitting by or talking with each other, but mingling with other participants
- Visiting exhibit booths to learn more about potential clients and what other firms are doing
- Focusing on asking people about their businesses to engage them in conversation, not just telling them about yours
- Asking if your firm could forward information about ways it might be of service
Also give firm members talking points they can use when people ask about your firm. Communicate frequently with firm members who have a stake in the event, and ask your managing partner to make networking a priority.
Be sure to follow up on all leads. At minimum, send a note to a new contact expressing how nice it was to meet him or her and asking the person to let you know how you might be of service. When appropriate, have a partner request an in-person meeting, ask to connect on LinkedIn or invite the person to become a Facebook Fan or Twitter Follower.
Above all, keep in touch – and be patient. Unless a person you meet at an event already knows you in some capacity, it likely will take time to cultivate a relationship that yields new business. But remember: Great things come to those who persist.
About the author:
Francesca Zelasko, director of Accountant Partner Programs and Partner Marketing for SurePayroll, has more than 10 years of progressive marketing experience within the technology industry, including SaaS, software, hardware, and middleware products and services. Zelasko currently oversees the overall Accountant Channel for SurePayroll, which includes referral and reseller partners and customized products.