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9 Networking Do's and Don'ts for Small Business Owners


Now that we are well into fall and settled back into our regular routines, invitations to networking events are popping up like mushrooms. This is as good a time as any for a little refresher on networking do’s and don’ts. After all, every time you meet someone, they are experiencing your small business’s brand. Let’s make that experience a truly memorable one!

1. Do dress the part

Because you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, put in a little effort before you leave for an event. Iron your shirt, pull on a snazzy pair of shoes, and do your hair and makeup (if applicable!). You’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t bother, which always makes me wonder if their work is as sloppy as their appearance.

2. Don’t walk in the door with your hand out

You are attending the event to meet people – and that’s it. The last thing you should be thinking about is closing a sale, let alone generating leads, no matter how new your business is. (This goes for the charity event you are chairing, too – no soliciting donations.)

Violate this rule, and word will get around – business communities are very small worlds. People will start avoiding you, and you and your business will develop a bad reputation. Believe me – I’ve seen it happen, and it ain’t pretty.

3. Do ask, “How can I help you?”

You will absolutely stand out in a room if you ask people how you can help them. One thing I typically ask is, “Who are your ideal clients?” If I know someone who fits the profile, I’ll ask if they want an introduction – and then I make it. You will be remembered for being so darn helpful – and for not having your hand out!

4. Don’t use a stiff elevator pitch

When I ask you what you do, I don’t want to hear a canned elevator pitch that sounds completely unnatural. Simply tell me what you do and why it matters to your clients. For example: “I’m a CPA, and I help my clients save their hard-earned money.”

5. Do talk about non-work stuff

At an event I attended last week, I found myself talking to two people who obviously liked whiskey (that’s what they were drinking). We got on the topic of rye whiskey, bourbon, distilleries, and our favorite drinks. When I followed up the next day, I sent them both a recipe for a twist on a Manhattan. People remember that stuff.

6. Don’t drink

Following on the heels of my last tip, this might sound a little hypocritical. However, I was not drinking at the event, and in fact, I very rarely drink at a networking event. I want to be completely lucid when talking to people – and I want to remember what they’re saying to me. Also, I don’t want to be the person who embarrasses herself because she can’t walk straight and has to call a cab to get home.

7. Do have a really cool business card

Maybe it’s an odd shape or printed on stiff paper. Maybe it’s made of metal or wood. Maybe the background is traffic cone orange rather than boring old white. Pay a little more to have a business card that stands out in a pile – it’s worth it.

8. Don’t bring your crappy day with you

At risk of sounding like little orphan Annie, chase away that frown with a smile. I don’t care that you just had a horrid day – we all have ’em! Smile. Smile the entire way to the event. Smile as you walk into the event. And keep smiling as you chat with people. You’ll leave in a better mood, and – bonus! – people will think you are the nicest person on the planet.

9. Do follow up quickly

Follow up with the people you met later that day (morning or daytime events) or the next day (evening events) before everyone’s attention is elsewhere and you are a distant memory. Make introductions, send articles on a topic they might find of interest, connect with them on LinkedIn, and/or set up a time to meet if it looks like they are a lead.

Did I leave anything off this list? What are your networking rules?


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