It doesn’t matter what breed or discipline or segment of the industry you are vested in, there is a group of people who meet at some regularly scheduled time. That might be to plan a horse show, trail ride, or event, or it might be a breed or discipline local, state, or regional group.
There aren’t many equine professionals who don’t attend meetings centered around a shared industry interest that includes people you know and don't know. But are you making the most of these meetings for yourself and your business?
Here are five tips to help you network at an industry gathering.
Tip #1. Prepare For The Meeting
Don’t forget that networking is work. While some people make it look easy because they have no fear talking to people they don’t know, others really don’t like those types of affairs. However, if you are running an equine business, then these meetings are a great place to market yourself or your in the regular course of conversation.
Whether you are a pro at these types of gatherings, or you hate them (but recognize the necessity of being in attendance), preparing for the networking opportunities will make the evening go smoother, and more profitably.
Here are some things you can do to prepare:
- Make sure you know where you are going and what the schedule is for the meeting.
- Know who the meeting leaders are and who the speaker is supposed to be and the topic.
- Take plenty of business cards, a notebook, and a pen; or you can use your smart phone or tablet to take notes and enter contact information.
- Make sure your business cards are easily accessible (don’t make yourself have to dig around for them when you meet someone).
When you determine who will be (or might be) at the meeting, make a “hit list” of the people you want to meet or talk to. Write that person’s name down in your notebook or set a reminder on your phone. Even better, connect with that person before the meeting and set a time and place to meet during the event.
Get a business card or write down the contact information in your notebook for everyone you meet. Also, jot down something else about them (what you discussed, something they are passionate about or involved with, their horse’s name, shared gym membership, people you know in common) to give you something to chat about next time.
Tip #2. Arrive Early for the Meeting
If you are going to the meeting for business, then make the most of it. If there is a “cocktail hour” or social time before the meeting, get there when it starts. Don’t get there halfway through. Usually there isn’t enough time to get around to everyone at these meetings, so you need to give yourself plenty of time.
For the people who don’t like to mingle and make small talk, this is a difficult task. But again, think about it like mucking a stall: It’s work, and it’s up to you!
Don’t allow yourself to stand by yourself during the pre-meeting, or sit by yourself. Pick out someone else standing alone or sitting alone and go up and introduce yourself.
If you truly have social fears, enlist the help of an outgoing friend or colleague to walk around with you to help you break the ice.
Tip #3. Have Something To Talk About
The problem most people have talking to strangers is that they feel like they have nothing to say. The good thing about going to an industry meeting is that you already know you have something in common with everyone there.
Is there an event or horse show coming up that people will be attending? Did one just happen? Bring that up. If you know something about the person (one of her students won the hunter hack at the last show, or she just sold a three-day horse to one of your students, or she is getting the dressage award that evening), then you have a nice starting point.
Do you have a horse to sell? Need a horse for a student or lesson program? Are you looking for a new (or additional) trainer? Want to partner with someone to have a horse show?
Know your business, and be open to opportunities.
This is also where your preparation comes in handy in step one.
You should be prepared to answer questions about yourself and your business when other people come up to talk to you. If you have brochures or information about your stable, farm, event, or business, carry a few with you or get the person’s email and send them the information within 24 hours.
Tip #4. Position Yourself Strategically
“I’m supposed to pick out a spot to stand or sit ahead of time? Isn’t that a bit of overkill?” If you are serious about networking to help your business grow and be more profitable, this is one step in that business plan.
Position yourself near the door; that way you can see everyone who is coming and going. If there is someone you specifically want to meet or talk to, being by the entrance will help you make sure you won’t miss that person!
There should be a good reason why you sit where you do at dinner or during the meeting. Don’t just plop down with some friends. If you met someone that you think could be useful to you or your business or vice versa, ask if you can sit with that person.
Otherwise pick a table near the front of the room and facing the podium. The reason is that you not only can see and hear better (and without having to turn your chair), but the more involved people of the group tend to sit at the front tables.
Tip #5. Divide Your Time Wisely
You should divide your time at the meeting in order to spend about half with people you know and half with people you don’t know. Time yourself if you tend to get rolling with friends, then it’s time for the meeting to start and you haven’t met anyone new.
It’s important to spend time with people you know and re-establish those bonds and friendships. It’s equally important to meet new people and start establishing new bonds and friendships.
Here’s your bonus Tip #6. Follow Up
This might be the most important part of the networking process. Within 24 hours of the meeting or event, follow up with people you met or talked to at the event. You also should send emails or make calls to those people wanted to talk to, but didn’t have time to catch up with at the gathering.
“I don’t want to do that! What do I say?” you might grump to yourself.
That’s why you had your notebook and pen. If you met Susie and she is working on that organization’s committee for the spring horse show, send her an email and volunteer or ask how you can help. If you met Joe and he’s looking for a place to board his horses and that’s what you do, call him and invite him out to see your facility.
Networking isn’t easy, but it can be profitable for you personally and professionally. Treat it like part of your job, then enjoy the fruits of your labor!