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5 Networking Tips for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

By John Boitnott | Small Business

Putting yourself out there can be an intimidating endeavor, but you'll be fine as long as you prepare ahead of time and make sure to smile.

There are a lot of responsibilities that you must undertake as an entrepreneur. But one vital task is sometimes easily overlooked: networking.

Networking may not seem like a big deal to you. Or you may find it terrifying. Regardless, it's part of the foundation of being a connected and successful entrepreneur. When you make the right connections, you're able to meet individuals who can provide advice, information, and referrals, and can help you expand your sphere of influence. How do you get out there and successfully network? Here are five tips that will help you get the ball rolling.

1. Be Prepared

For starters, know what kind of event you're going to. Is it a conference? Is it a black-tie affair? This will obviously determine how you dress and help you know the appropriate time to speak to people. You also want to know who's attending and whether or not it's possible to reach out to them before the event.

Finally--and most important: Be ready to clearly and concisely describe what you do if someone asks. But remember, you're not just there to make a sales pitch. You're there to make connections. Sales will happen further on down the line as you get to know people with whom you've met and established a rapport.

2. Be Yourself, and Smile

Obviously you want to put your best foot forward, but don't be afraid to be yourself. If you're a bit goofy, let that side out a little. It sets you apart from everyone else in the crowd who might be acting overly professional. There will always be people who appreciate you for who you are, just as there are those who won't. Forget about putting on a show, and trust yourself. Being real shows others who you actually are, and why you're passionate about your product or service.

Whatever you do, don't forget to smile. Not only is a smile more inviting than a frown, it makes others happy as well. When you see someone smile, your brain has a similar response. Smiling is also relaxing. So even if you're terrified, putting on a genuine smile can slow down your heart rate and relieve stress.

3. Don't Be Shy

What's the point in establishing relationships if you don't get out there and mingle?
"One of the best ways to break the ice is by asking questions," says serial investor John Rampton. "It doesn't have to be anything too in-depth at first, a simple 'Hi, my name is... What brings you here today?' That one little introduction could be just enough to launch an eventful and important relationship."

4. Listen

It happens to the best of us. You're nervous, and now you just can't stop rambling on and on. The problem with that is that you've now hijacked the conversation. When conversing with someone, think of it as 70 percent listening and 30 percent talking. This makes people feel important and it shows that you are actually sincerely interested in what they have to say. When doing so, make eye contact, repeat the person's name, and ask a question or make a statement that rephrases something that person has said.

Need some more advice with this one? Check out the work of American psychologist Carl Rogers.

5. Follow Up

If all goes well, then you've received contact information from some of the people you met. Perhaps they gave you a business card or friended you on LinkedIn. What are you going to do with this information? Instead of storing it away in some forgotten desk drawer, make sure that you follow up.

Whether it's an email, phone call, or social media conversation through Twitter or LinkedIn, make sure that you get in touch within 48 hours of first meeting. If you really want to make an impression--or spark the contact's memory--reference something that was discussed during your first encounter.

Bonus Tip

Every relationship has two sides, and one of the keys to networking is helping others. Look for ways to help people you meet. You gain people's trust by going above and beyond to really help them out. Besides, karma is a good thing, and it'll always come back to you.

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