When you network with other small business owners, you tend to see familiar faces at many of the popular local events. Over time you watch these people relax and enjoy interacting with each other, feeling they're amongst 'friends'. That's when business relationships can really start to flourish.
But there's also a hidden downside to feeling relaxed and amidst friends at business networking meetings, and that's the risk of becoming too casual. Sure, regular members know you're a professional business person by now, but have you stopped to think what impression you might inadvertently be giving to new visitors to the group?
Here are a few examples of what I mean:
Personal Appearance – no matter what time of day the meeting takes place, you still need to look like a professional business owner. Guys can get away with less effort, it's true (hmph!) – but there's no excuse for sloppy dressing or a crumpled appearance.
Possible First Impression – is their work going to be rumpled and untidy too?
Preparedness – we've all seen latecomers sidling into the room after the speaker has started. Personally I think these people have missed out on one of most important parts of any event – the networking opportunities as everyone arrives.
Possible First Impression – are they habitually late to meetings & would they meet my project deadlines?
Marketing Materials – hurrying bleary-eyed to early morning breakfast meetings or rushing after appointments through slow traffic can mean you forget to check if you have enough flyers or business cards. Ladies, this can be a particular danger if you decide to change handbags at the last minute!
Possible First Impression – what else might they forget? Are they slapdash in their work because they rush everything?
Marketing Message – we always forgive the nervous newbies when it comes to standing up to give the ubiquitous 60-second pitch. But what about your own message? Is it clear to everyone who whispers it what you do and who you work with? (link)
Possible First Impression – I'm not sure I understand what they do … is it for me?
I'm speaking from personal experience here because a couple of years ago, I made the mistake of focusing too many of my pitches on workshops, but did not realize it until until a newcomer to the group came up to me at one meeting and said: "I did not know you did coaching …." Oops!
(c) Louise Barnes-Johnston, 2010