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Guide to Networking for Entrepreneurs

When it comes to networking, there are many different ways to make an impact. While venture pitches may be the norm for some industries, formal networking events are preferred for others. Depending on which type of event you’re attending, you’ll want to make sure you do some research on proper behavior and best practices. In this new series, “An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Networking,” we’ll be covering proper etiquette for a wide range of networking events. Up this week are networking lunches.

But first, what are networking lunches? As it sounds, these are opportunities to meet and connect with other professionals over a light lunch, usually offered through some event, keynote, or similar presentation. It’s important to remember that while these are more casual than an evening of networking, they still require some level of professionalism. Let’s explore how you can make the best of a networking lunch.

Making an Entrance

When attending a seated lunch networking event, there are certain rules that apply that should be remembered at any networking opportunity, such as greeting the host of the event. If you are at a small lunch, make yourself known by introducing yourself to the other guests at the table. If the lunch is fairly large, it’s not realistic to expect to speak to every person in attendance. Try your best to establish yourself in the room, but avoid doing the majority of the talking –especially if it is about yourself. The more you allow the person you’re engaged in conversation with to speak, the more you’ll learn about ways you might be able to do business together.

Lunching and Listening

In smaller sized luncheons, you may have been assigned seating. If so, strike up a conversation with those seated around you. Be sure that you are asking people questions, and not just talking about yourself. Showing interest in what others have to say will let them know that you listen, even if there is not a potential business opportunity in plain sight. You never know how you may connect in the future!

Some lunch networking events are at a restaurant, in which case everyone orders what they’d like and then pays for their own meal. Some people may be there solely to network and don’t wish to eat, while some are ordering multi-course meals. In this scenario, pick a reasonably priced main course, so that you are not remembered as the person who racked up the bill. Also, keep in mind that what you eat will effect how you interact, such as ordering a sandwich or burger, which you eat with your hands. This will change how you are able to communicate, as opposed to something you eat with a fork and knife.

If the menu has been pre-picked by the host, the cost of your lunch will be same as everyone else’s. If the host has chosen to go with family style menu, be mindful of how much food you have on your plate compared to others. Make sure that everyone has been able to get enough before going for seconds.

Walking the Room

After lunch, you may have a chance to walk around the room. When this opportunity arises, try and network with the people you have not met yet. If you meet a person and do not detect any similarities or synergies, that’s okay! Tell this person it was great to meet them and move on to other potential opportunities in the room. Remember, you are there to make connections; do not be afraid to be bold.

While it’s always important to meet new people at these events, you need to acknowledge the ones you know, as it’s also important to develop upon existing relationships. You may see the same faces over and over again at networking events, particularly those hosted by the same organization. It’s important to make sure you meet the people you see regularly and greet them by name each time. There isn’t much point to meeting new people at each event if you don’t interact with them after the first meeting.

Following Up

Before leaving any event, ask yourself, “Did I make my best effort to formulate one connection today?”If you feel like you tried your best to converse and speak with new people at this event, then you should leave feeling satisfied. If you have created new connections, be sure to follow up with this individual the following day with an email or a message on LinkedIn. Once again, thank the host for the invitation and tell them you look forward to seeing them at their next event.

Again, remember that cultivating your existing relationships is just as important in networking as meeting new people. If you are constantly trying to meet new people at events where you see the same attendees and don’t follow up or build upon the relationships, you might earn a reputation as a business card collector—someone who’s trying to meet people without making any real connections. The follow-up needs to be timely, repetitive, and about how you can mutually benefit from one another; it can’t be one-sided.