“You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”  ~Zig Ziglar

Your 16-Step Blueprint to Networking SuccessSo, if you’re like me, you do most of your work solo – and when you do work with collaborators, you do so virtually for the most part. And sometimes, that’s enough.

But when you’re ready to take your work to the next level, or if you’re working primarily a local beat, you might want to get involved in some in-person networking events.

How does in-person networking make you feel?

Since a lot of online writers work from home, in-person networking events might feel a little more stressful than they would for someone who’s already working “out in the world” every day.

That’s why, if you’re going to do this successfully, you’ve got to be honest with yourself and figure out your challenges in advance.

Ask yourself: Are you nervous when you think about these kinds of things?

  1. Do your palms start sweating and your heart start pounding when you think about it? Do you start stressing so hard about what to wear that you get a pimple at the most inopportune time?
  2. Can preparation make a difference in the way you feel?
  3. Could it make a difference in the actual results of the event?
  4. Maybe you feel confident tweaking your LinkedIn profile, but you’d rather cut off your left arm than think about building connections face to face?
  5. If you are at-ease in most social situations, does the idea of trying to “sell yourself” make you nervous?

If you’re human, there is probably at least one thing on that list you can identify with. But don’t worry, my socially-challenged friend. I’ve got you covered – keep reading. I’m sharing my comprehensive step-by-step plan for in-person networking event success – and I’m starting with the PRE-EVENT part.

Dazzle Time: Here’s Your Step-by-Step In-Networking Success Blueprint

With a little advance planning and positive thinking, you can be just as poised at networking events as you are behind your computer screen. Try these suggestions for working a room and dazzling at any event.

Pre-event networking tips: What to do before the day of the event

  1. Know before you go! Do your research. Advance research is a great solution whenever you want to calm your nerves and make a strong impression. Browse online for details about the event, venue, and expected crowd.
  2. Get clear first. Clarify your purpose. Focus on your goals instead of the butterflies in your stomach. Maybe you want to invite two new acquaintances out for coffee. Maybe you want to consult with experts about the impact of recent legislation on your industry.
  3. Invite a plus one. Bring a friend. While you eventually want to be able to muster the courage to fly solo, companionship can help while you’re still in training. Just be sure to split up frequently so you can mingle with others.
  4. Offer to help – free. Volunteer your services. Transform yourself into an instant insider. Call the hosts and offer to help with registration or escorting speakers. You’ll probably meet more participants, and your role provides an instant icebreaker as guests come to you for information.
  5. Be dazzling! Prepare small talk. Are you stumped for something to say? Read up on breaking industry news. Write down questions you want to discuss with other guests. If appropriate, practice a couple of jokes or interesting stories to share. It may seem like overdoing it, but if you’re prepared, you can truly seem more at ease and it’ll be more beneficial for any professional relationships you can form.
  6. Plan ahead to dress the part. Appearances count too. Convey that you have a lot in common by going along with the dress code for suits and ties, or polo shirts and khakis. You’ll feel more at ease and start to build rapport.
  7. Don’t forget to bring mints. Smell as good as you look. Fresh breath makes it easier to wow others with what you have to say.

Ideas on What Successful Online Writers Need to Bring to a Networking Event

For writers, there could be a variety of reasons you’d attend a networking event. Maybe you are looking for new freelance clients or you want to write a story about the event. Maybe you’ve got a local news blog, and you’re looking for a sponsor – or maybe you’re an online marketing professional looking for companies to sign on with your agency.

Regardless of the reason, writers can bring along a few different things to make prospects remember them and follow up.

  1. Business cards – they should have, at the very least, your name, phone number, email address and URL. I also like to include a list of services offered and/or a link to my books.
  2. A tablet connected to a wireless provider (your cell phone company) – with a tablet, your possibilities are endless. For an online writer, you could use it to show your work to prospects, including blogs, videos, online articles and social media pages you’ve built, among other things. But you could also use it to collect email addresses for people who want to sign up for a list and for doing demonstrations on various tools and techniques you might be working on or with.
  3. An interesting giveaway – maybe a physical coupon with an ebook coupon code for download, or a cool pen, or any number of swag items available for next to nothing around the internet. A little notebook, chapstick or a small stack of sticky notes – look at sites like VistaPrint and CafePress for more ideas – both are reasonably priced and I’ve used both (so I can tell you they’re legit). The one thing that you need to do is make sure it has your name and URL on it – and maybe a tagline to remind the user what you do, if it’s not obvious by the name on the item.  Everybody loves free, useful stuff. While you’ll only get maybe one out of 50 giveaways to pay off, it can still turn out to be worth the trouble in referrals and even the actual ROI in the long run.

Go Time: What to Do During Your Networking Events

  1. GLOW! Radiate enthusiasm. Smile wide and think positive. Remember how beneficial the event can be for your career and how much you appreciate those around you.
  2. Have a winning posture. Straighten up. Good posture boosts your mood and shows others that you’re strong and capable. Tuck your stomach in and roll your shoulders back and down.
  3. Keep your eye on the prize. And make eye contact. Starting conversations with strangers can be challenging. Establishing eye contact is a natural way to gain someone’s attention and introduce yourself. From there, you can start chatting about the food or the program.
  4. Make them want you – here’s how. Express interest. Guests at a networking event are likely to be eager to talk about themselves and their business. Ask open-ended questions that keep the conversation going. Share your own relevant experiences, and make sure to be relaxed – don’t try to close any deals during a networking event. Just focus on relationships and if you find someone you want to do business with, exchange information and make arrangements to meet later.
  5. Don’t be fake! Be authentically yourself – even though you’ve practiced ahead of time. There’s plenty of advice available about networking. Sift through the information for tips that match your strengths and personality – remember that being honest will make future connections and business relationships more smooth. Never pretend to be something you’re not – it’ll just cause you and everyone else frustration later.
  6. Do be selective! Slow down. Pace yourself. Be courteous and friendly to each guest, but reserve your business cards for those colleagues you’re interested in following up with. Enjoy your initial conversations without rushing to connect on social media or promote your own products and services. Healthy relationships are based on trust that grows over time.
  7. Keep moving! Don’t stay in one conversation or one place for long. Leave your contacts wanting more. Like I said, it’s usually more productive to strike up brief conversations and make plans to talk again later if you think you’ve discovered a potential client or partner. That way you can dial down the pressure and explore more options.

Grind on: What to do after the event

  1. Follow up with prospects. If you’ve connected with new people, shoot them an email or make a call to set up a lunch or coffee meeting to discuss the next step in your potential partnership.
  2. Revisit the event in your mind and think about what you could’ve done better. Then make the changes during the next event to fine-tune your approach.
  3. Start preparing for the next event!

Using this basic networking success plan, you can now show up at annual conventions and monthly luncheons ready to make new contacts and stay in touch with old friends.

And you can do it with ease, style and grace. What could be better?

Remember, you create business and social opportunities by reaching out to others. Allow your real self to shine through and feel your new-found confidence – and nothing will stand in the way of your success. Are you ready?

Your Turn: Let’s Discuss!

What are your best in-person marketing tips? Share them with the OPW community in the comments below!