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Networking, networking events – as an entrepreneur you know they’re part of the deal. However, not everyone is a natural at networking and a lot of people struggle. Let me help you improve your networking game!

Tip 1: Stop Selling, Start Listening.
A lot of people seem to think networking is the same as selling. It isn’t. Networking is about establishing and building relationships. A crucial element of this process is showing genuine interest in the person across from you. I mean, think about it: do you really want to keep talking to the people that start pushing their product 4 minutes into the conversation?

Tip 2: Ask Away.
Resist the urge to start talking about yourself after your conversation partner answered two of your questions. Stay interested but stay away from standard questions such as ‘What do you do?’. Go beyond that. Ask about successes, motivations and dilemmas. Why did this person start their company? What do they like about it? And, if the setting is right, ask about their personal life too. It’s questions like this that create a lasting impression.

Tip 3: Start Simple.
It’s never a good idea to just stand in a corner like a wallflower. Join a group. Remember: everyone at the event came out to meet new people, so you aren’t interrupting. Don’t worry too much about opening questions: ‘Can I join?’, ‘Why did you come to this seminar?’, ‘What did you think of that first speaker?’ are all perfectly fine opening lines.

Tip 4: Be Likable!
People are more likely to do business with people that give off good vibes. Simply put: make sure they like you! Listen, maintain an open attitude, keep the conversation going, and smile! People often forget that non-verbal communication is essential to building relationships. Smiling helps ease the nerves and makes you come across warmer. If the event was boring, make sure you’ve left the negativity behind you when you start networking.

Tip 5. Share Your Passion.
If someone asks about your story or your company, make sure you have your answer ready. Be short and precise. Most importantly: show the other person you’re passionate about what you do. Tell them why you started your company. Talk about your successes, failures and challenges, and make sure it has a happy ending or intriguing future prospects. People remember passionate conversation partners, so use that knowledge to your advantage!

Tip 6. Share Your Goal and Use Each Other’s Network.
Don’t think of your conversation partners as potential customers, but as potential ambassadors. I try to make sure people I meet become my ambassadors. I do this by sharing my passion and my goals. I want others to think of me in conversations with other people. ‘Oh, so you’re looking for this and that? I recently spoke with Rens de Jong, a really passionate guy, maybe you should send him an email’. Don’t overlook the network behind your conversation partner, because that is where their true added value lies.

Tip 7. Make It Specific
Once the initial introduction is out of the way, don’t be afraid of making things a little more specific. Ask questions such as: ‘How could I be of use to you?’. Next: ‘What suggestions do you have for me?’. Finally: ‘Who do you think I should sit down with?’ (and could you introduce me?).

Tip 8. The Follow-Up
If you don’t follow up, all your efforts will have been in vain. Do this within 48 hours and send an email. And because you were paying attention, you know that John is busy developing a new app, Robin is crazy about new gadgets, and Lisa is on the hunt for affordable office space. Make sure your email is somewhat ‘newsworthy’. Forget the ‘It was nice meeting you, let’s stay in touch’, because honestly, how often does that happen? Instead, go for ‘Since you’re busy working on your app, did you see this one already?’, ‘I read an article on gadgets and privacy – what’s your take?’ and ‘Have you ever used this website to find new office space?’. It shows you know how to listen and you’ve just taken the first step in building a real, meaningful and hopefully beneficial relationship.