As contractors you’re not just tradespeople; you’re also business people. This means, on top of doing good work and keeping up with your craft, you also have to learn how to run a business… including that most dreaded of beasts: networking.
That word conjures images of a brash, used-car-salesman type with slicked back hair shoving business cards in your face before running after someone more important--which is not your style at all.
Thankfully, most events aren’t like that, and networking events and tradeshows have some distinct advantages for wall and ceiling contractors, if you know how to make the most of them.
Know Your Goal
Having a goal or a reason for attending any of these events is critical. Are you looking to drum up business? Find referral partners? Get to know industry experts? Many people waste time at conferences and events because they don’t have a goal to help keep them focused on the activities that will be most beneficial to them. Instead, they rely on luck and serendipity and don’t maximize their experience.
Knowing what you want to accomplish lets you choose which seminars you attend, which booths you peruse, and who you talk to, which gets you closer to your goals.
Choose Your Event Carefully
The two biggest benefits of trade shows are that you 1) get to connect connect with like-minded business owners, suppliers, and manufacturers and 2) are in a target-rich environment. You can find a lot of highly qualified sales leads here because people who attend these events already have a strong interest in your services.
Talk to industry associations, co-workers, and read reviews online to find an event that fits your target audience and your business goals so you end up at the best event for you.
Know Who’s Coming
Skimming through the list of exhibitors and attendees will help make sure you’re going to an event where your target audience will be present. It can also help you select people you want to connect with while you’re at the event. Pick 2--4 key people and invite them out for drinks or dinner, or find a way to introduce yourself on the show floor.
When you know who you want to connect with, and are focused on making a few strong, lasting connections, networking becomes a much easier task to manage, and it feels more natural and authentic.
Instead of being “that guy” trying to get people to help you, change how you think about networking. Networking isn’t about getting a pile of business cards: it’s about making connections and building relationships.
You don’t want to help that guy who’s only in it for himself so ask yourself, “how can I help this person?” It can be something as small as a restaurant recommendation or sending them a relevant article after the show. By focusing on how you can help others, you’ll grow real relationships, which can turn into business partners, referrals, industry contacts, and more.
Come Ready to Learn
According to Jennie Biltek, director of conference management & marketing with Informa, the group that puts on the Buildex Home Improvement Shows in Western Canada, the vast majority of Buildex attendees are there for educational content.
There are always new products and innovations showcased on the trade floor, and there might be a hidden gem in there that can help you take your work to the next level or break into a new market. Coming prepared and ready to learn can help you take advantage of all the opportunities available to you, from seminars, to the show floor, demos, and more.
Follow-Up as Soon as You Can
Now that you’ve connected, how do you stay in touch after the show?
By following up as soon as possible. In Never Eat Alone, New York Times bestselling author Keith Ferrazzi recommends following up within 12-24 hours to really make an impression. Waiting until after the conference ends can leave your email lost in a slew of similar messages.
To really make an impact, mention something specific you discussed, and find a way to offer help. This way, the person you’re following up with knows you were paying attention and that you genuinely care about their success.
If you follow these tips and use your next tradeshow or networking event strategically as a way to connect with people and build real relationships, you can grow your business, learn new things, and possibly find that one new product that will make your work life ten times easier.
3 Ways to Use Social Media to Improve your Tradeshow Experience
Social media is everywhere, and at any networking event you’re pretty much guaranteed to see people tweeting, streaming, and posting about all of the goings on. Here are three tips to help you connect and be part of the social media conversation, both during and after the event:
1) Use Hashtags to Connect
Most conferences these days have a social media presence, and that includes a Twitter hashtag. Attendees tag their tweets so that other attendees can see what they’re saying. If you monitor the conference hashtag you can to get up-to-the-minute news about exhibitors, seminars, and more.
For the best results, reply to tweets and engage with other attendees. Help answer questions, give conference feedback, Tweet quotes from seminars, and arrange meet ups with potential clients while you can get face-to-face. Twitter is a great way to connect initially, but the real value of social media is in co-ordinating, so you can take that connection offline and get personal.
2) Mention and Tag People in Tweets and Photos
Conferences are a great time for photos. Whether you’re uploading directly to Facebook or posting them on Twitter, take a second to see if the person or company you’ve taken the photo with has an account. If they do, tag or mention them.
This not only shows you as active and engaged, it comes across as thoughtful, because you’re helping to promote the people in those photos, too. Plus photos perform wonderfully on social media, and make a nice break from all the text posts.
3) Blog or Review it
After the event, write a blog post recapping your experience or reviewing the conference. What did you see? What was new and cool and exciting? Did you try out any new products? What did you think?
If you promote the post on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, the conference will often happily help you promote the post by sharing it with their readers, as might any companies you mention. After all, it’s free press for them and more exposure for you, so everybody wins.