I had the opportunity recently to attend a business expo. I was attending as a guest to see what local businesses had to offer, to network and to see what competition I face (the “T” in SWOT). I saw some really nice behavior and some not so nice. There are several types of people who attend theses types 0f networking events:
- Serious Business Owners – these people are already in business and are interested in assessing their competition, to see what new technology is available and for opportunities to connect with their target market, such as chambers or affiliates.
- Contemplaters – these people are contemplating starting a business or have just established theirs, so they are looking for information and for connections on who can help them start and grow their business
- The Curious – these types of people are curious as to who attends an expo and are looking for the “freebies”, you know the free handouts that are given (candy, pens, notepads, bags, etc)
- Vendors – these are the people who are there to showcase their business and to grab you as a customer
While there is no real protocol for how one should behave at a networking event (although you can find numerous books on how to network), I feel there are some guidelines for how to behave at a business expo:
1. Be authentic – whether you are a vendor or a guest, be who you are not who you think you want others to see you or to buy from you; be in the helping mode
2. Come prepared – bring business cards, your elevator pitch, your openness to information, your willingness to connect – be it on the vendor side or the gues side. Have an agenda for when you come, i.e. connect with 3 media companies, etc.
3. Don’t over-promote – this is for those who are attending but have a business; you are not there as a paid vendor so it’s not polite to promote your business. It is ok to network and share info – you can set up meetings after for promotion of your services.
4. Don’t ignore your audience – this is true if you are a vendor; be sure to greet and speak with all that come to your table or booth. You never know how influential someone may be to be a customer or to send customers your way. I had this happen to me – I was in the midst of a conversation when someone else walked up and the person I was speaking with greeted that person and left me hanging. I will not be promoting that business.
5. Follow-Up – be sure to contact the people you met at the expo, either by email, phone or card. You can set up a meeting to learn more about each of your businesses and work to connect customers or to create affiliate relationships. This is how you build relationships.
Business expos can be very rewarding if you follow these guidelines. You can gather customers for life – but watch your behavior!