You’re out networking! That’s great…

…but going to events and eating free food alone will not help you get ahead. Knowing what to do when you go to networking events is the other half of the battle. Here are some practical ways to set yourself up for the best possible results.

Bring a friend, but talk to other people

I can’t stress this point enough, especially if you are an introvert. There is no better way to boost your confidence than to have a wingman by your side. Your wingman is there to encourage you, introduce you, and be there for you to fall back on, but be careful of spending all your time with him or her. You don’t wan’t to miss the reason you came in the first place: to meet new people. As you network more and more, you will run into some of the same people and it will become tempting to gravitate toward them all the time. New friends in networking make a great launching pad to get comfortable with the room before venturing around to talk with others.

Speak up; have confidence in yourself and your product.

No one is attracted to insecurity. Look people in the eye, give a firm handshake, and hold a normal conversation. Remember everyone is there for the same purpose – to network. If ever there was a safe environment for you to generate interest in your work, this is it. Don’t be afraid to interject into conversations, but be careful not to be rude.

Practice your elevator pitch

You should be able to effectively communicate what you do in 30 seconds. If there is interest you can elaborate, but don’t dominate the conversation or you will turn people off. Write it down and commit it to memory so you don’t waste people’s time hemming and hawing.

Wear a name tag

Nobody likes to admit that they forgot your name when you just told it to them, so make it easy for them to remember you. Some events provide sticky labels for you to wear, but those often don’t stick and just don’t carry the credibility that a well-designed name tag does. Besides, networking events are often noisy, so even if they don’t hear a word you say, at least they will know who you are.

Dress for success

You are a professional and you need to look the part, even if you do wear jeans and a T-shirt to work. A little effort put into your appearance goes a long way. Business dressy or casual is good enough for most events.

Bring enough professional business cards

Invest in some good quality professionally printed cards – they are the cheapest form of advertising available. Your cards need to contain your name, business, phone, email, and website, but not much else. You can add a short description of what you do, but don’t clutter the card so much that it’s hard for people to see how to contact you. Leave some white space in case you want to write something on the card when you meet people, but don’t leave the entire backside black – that is valuable real estate for establishing brand recognition.

Have patience

It will take time to develop trust and start getting referrals, but if you persevere you will begin to develop business from your networking efforts. For more tips, read Entrepreneur’s article¬†Plan, Learn, and Do.

Rachel is a graphic and web designer who helps small businesses and non-profits improve their marketing efforts. She owes a major part of the success of her design business to local networking, both through the people she has met and the principles she has learned.