Networking yourself or your small business is said to go hand-in-hand with running a successful operation. But be careful what you do while networking, because it can be your greatest mistake if it is not done well.

A great deal of entrepreneurs and small business owners have began to focus their networking strictly online, but that should not replace their in-person networking opportunities. Yes, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ are great places to network, but are the people you need to network with on those social media platforms?

Meeting the right contact at the right time can be the key to making those profitable business connections. Knowing someone who knows someone in an online group that needs your product or service, might not result in that person or company becoming a good lead. But when you have met someone in-person who gives you a lead (or IS the actual lead), you are a lot closer to finding a potential customer.

When attending an in-person event (even if it is not intended to be a networking event) be ready to network – because sometimes it is those chance encounters that will bring you the best new lead or customer you can find without looking for it. Sometimes you meet someone at an event and the conversation might not be about business, but the impression you leave with them could turn into future business.

Treat every event you attend as if it is a networking opportunity, especially if the event it is non-industry-related. Example: You are are attending a software training seminar and you are in the printing industry, you might meet others (who are in different industries) that might need some of the services you offer, but did not know about your small business. Your job is not to sell your products or services to other attendees, but to sell yourself.

Here are some tips on how to network at networking events or events that are unrelated to networking.

1. Plan to arrive early. Showing up early at a networking or non-networking event is a good strategy. As one of the first attendees, you’ll notice that it’s calmer and quieter – and people won’t have settled into groups yet. It’s also easier to find other people who don’t have conversation partners yet.

2. When attending events, make your introductions with simple and easy questions. Resist waiting around the edges of the room, or waiting for someone to approach you. Walk up to people and get the conversation started. Simply walking up to a person or a group and saying “May I join you” or “What brings you to this event?” Remember to listen intently to their replies. Listening can be the best way to get to know a person. Use your proven listening skills.

3. Avoid the sales pitch (save it for later). Have an alternative elevator pitch about yourself and your business that does not sound like you are trying to sell them on your products or services. Find non-sales approaches that draws them into a conversation, but still tells them about what you do. If someone is starting to show interest in your product, be prepared with laymen descriptions instead of industry jargon. You do not want to make the sale at the event; you want to whet their appetite enough to make your after-event follow-up easy.

4. Try not to be “That Guy.” Often, when people are nervous or too driven, they may overcompensate by commandeering a discussion without knowing it. They may hijack the conversation. Win people over with your enthusiasm and not your ability to take over the conversation. You will be remembered for that.

5. So when do you follow up with those stand-out people? Conventional wisdom is to reach out within 36 to 48 hours after the event. Even a simple “it was great to meet you” says a lot about your commitment. Remember that events are where the conversation begins, not ends. When you make that initial contact, be sure to make reference to a topic or conversation you had. This will help them to remember you.

Regardless of what type of event you meet people at, don’t forget to ask them what their preferred method of follow-up is. You want to contact them the way they prefer to be contacted – and not make yourself look pushy or intrusive. Some may want you to contact them by phone or email; others may tell you that social media is their choice of getting in touch. Contacting them on their own terms will go a long way in developing a potential business or networking prospect.

Over the years, Telsec has had many clients who have rented our training seminar rooms for various types of events. Some will rent out a training room to conduct classes or software training, while others have rented the large conference room for networking events. If you want to network successfully, we have the options, the facilities and the back-up staff.