Finding new clients is a great way to scale and grow your business. By making contact and scouting out new people to work alongside, you advance your customer base and your business. As you might expect, networking events are the perfect situation to meet like-minded folk.

A study by ComRes and the British Library found that three in five British adults who are “in or seeking work” haven’t attended a networking event. 54% of those who had attended a networking event agreed that networking “is very important for their professional development”. Going by these figures, attending a networking event has an almost 50/50 chance of enhancing your business and career – that’s a gamble I would be willing to participate in.

Networking events are there to help you grow

Events can seem intimidating and overwhelming, but remember that everyone there is in the same boat. Some people might be more comfortable at networking events due to their experience, however, all attendees are present to grow their business.

Networking isn’t all business cards and flashy suits. It’s about getting to know people and finding out how you can help each other.

1. Find and attend the right events for your business

A good place to start looking for networking events is on social media. Search for events, hashtags, and localised listings that are relevant to your sector. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are all foolproof methods of finding networking events. You can also join specific groups on social media to find out about networking events, or sift through websites such as EventBrite for events in your local area.

Networking doesn’t have to be set to just specific events. Research the city you live in. Are there hubs where events take place more regularly? Can you scope any opportunities for some coffee-shop working and seeing what subsequent conversations crop up? Putting yourself physically in a space with other like-minded people can spark conversation, customers, and conversions.

Once you’ve secured your spot at an event, have a browse through who else is attending. Are there any people that it would be good to make a beeline for and connect with? Make a list of these people and do some research beforehand. Have a read of their company website and blog – if you engage in conversation with them you’ll have prior knowledge of what they’ve been up to, showing you’re interested in them as a person and as a business.

2. Be prepared

Essentials to take with you to networking events include a pen, notebook, phone, and business cards. Don’t worry about fancy biz-card holders or anything flashy. Just make sure you have your contact details readily available to hand out.

Get yourself into a confident and self-assured headspace. Taking some time before a networking event to focus and practice mindfulness can help alleviate some of the anxious feelings you may be experiencing.

3. Have a perfect elevator pitch

Your elevator pitch – the way you summarise your business in enough time for a short elevator ride – needs to be perfect. Many fellow networkers will start a conversation by asking what you do. Being able to answer succinctly makes you look professional and polite. Clearly communicate what you do and who you help, and you’re off to a good start.

For instance, “I’m a freelance digital content specialist and help small businesses become more visible online” sounds a lot better than “I’m a freelancer and I work with small businesses”, or even worse “I’ve been freelancing on and off for about five years and only recently decided to start working for myself full time, I’ve been looking after clients such as blah blah blah…” – no one will be interested. Keep it short, snappy and simple.

4. Make a good first impression

A seemingly obvious tip, however one that many falter on. Remember: there isn’t a second chance to make a good first impression. You want to come across to potential clients and customers as engaging, polite, and interested.

Find out what the dress code is before attending an event. Don’t turn up in jeans and trainers if everyone else is wearing chinos and shirts. A quick flick through previous events photos might give you some signs as to what the expected attire is. If you’re still unsure, shoot the organiser a quick message asking how formal the event is.

Ask people open-ended questions that will spark conversation. Keep your answers friendly and upbeat. The same goes for your responses – make sure they’re positive and allow conversation to flow easily. Nobody likes to hear downbeat stories at networking events, so make sure you’ve got a few happier points to raise when people ask “how’s it going?”

5. Know when to call it a day

Nobody likes to be the first to leave a party and nobody likes the people that seemingly refuse to leave. Knowing when your time is up at a networking event is a good skill to have.

End conversations politely and courteously. Leave whoever you’re chatting to with a positive note, such as “It was lovely to meet with you – I’ll send you an email shortly” or, if you don’t plan on making contact, “It was lovely to chat with you – best of luck with your business”.

Don’t hang around until the end, sipping up the dregs. Make a well-timed exit and if you haven’t got all the information you were after or looking to obtain, there are always other events and opportunities.

6. Follow up

Send an email to people you’ve chatted with within two or three days of the event. Any longer than this and chances are they’ve forgotten you entirely (unless you were really memorable, hopefully for the right reasons).

Depending on the nature of your conversation you might want to suggest chatting further over a coffee or lunch. Finally, don’t forget to connect with everyone who you spoke with on LinkedIn – you never know what you might need to connect with them for in the future.

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