Image description: A group of people standing behind a table smiling.
I say it often: if you want to work online, you have to be online, and there are dozens upon dozens of ways to go about that. But let’s not neglect the power of in-person networking.
Showing up at IRL events, like conferences and conventions, is an incredible way to build connections that could lead to new clients and new collaborations. Not to mention, it’s a refreshing break from the occasional isolated feeling that comes from working online.
These face-to-face interactions can be extremely beneficial in building a strong network, and while there are tons of events geared towards freelancers, nomads, and remote workers at large, I highly recommend seeking out events that are specific to your niche, these will be especially worthwhile to attend. We’ve seen the great outcomes freelancers gain when niching in their business, and we want to keep that same energy when networking as well.
In fact, here’s a little homework for our go-getters: Think about your particular niche and head over to Google to see what events are out there for you to attend. These are events where you can meet your ideal clients in person!
Some freelancers feel like they don’t belong in certain spaces with people from the traditional workforce, but now, more than ever, these worlds are blending. Businesses are seeing the help of VAs, and employees are freelancing on the side, starting small businesses that they need support in managing, so go in and make waves.
There’s a treasure trove of opportunities to be made, but how? In this edition of our Create Opportunities series, I’m sharing my tips to ensure you get the most out of your next offline networking excursion.
And it all starts before you even leave the house… let’s dive in!
So, you’ve booked your ticket to the event, and you’re excited to go, but just showing up isn’t going to have you swimming in leads. We’re approaching this event with the mindset of creating opportunities, which involves some easy but intentional preparation.
- Do your research – You’ve probably done a fair bit of this prior to buying your ticket, but now is the time to get into all the good details. Is this a formal event, should you pack a suit, or is casual wear fine? What’s the event schedule, if there’s an overlap in sessions or panels, which ones will be the most valuable for you to attend? If you’re traveling abroad to network, it can be worthwhile to look up the business-related customs of that country. (Did you know that Japan has specific customs around exchanging business cards? The more you know!)
- Get ready to talk the talk – Having your go-to talking points and one-liners in mind will help you feel confident and ready to roll with any conversation.
- Your Declaration (aka your Elevator Pitch): How can you, in the briefest way possible, explain to someone who you are and what you do? If you don’t know your declaration, join our free 5 Day VA challenge, where we’ll give you the formula to write an impactful declaration and guide you through everything need to know to start working online.
- Your one-liner introduction: This comes even before your declaration and can be as simple as “Hi, I’m Hannah, pleasure to meet you,” having that go-to phrase will make introductions a lot easier.
- Open-ended questions: During breaks in the event, you can strike up a conversation by asking people, “What was your biggest takeaway from that last session?” The more targeted the event is to your niche, the easier it will be to craft open-ended questions, because you’re already familiar with this space.
- Spruce up the socials – Take some time to make sure that your website and social media accounts are cohesive and up-to-date with all the necessary information about you, your work, and your services. It’s a great idea to have a booking link featured in your bio so that leads can book a discovery call with you.
- Grab your business cards – If you don’t already have a stack of these collecting dust from pre-pandemic times, now is your opportunity to get some fresh cards in hand. Just be sure you have enough time for shipping, or better yet, explore more eco-friendly options to Create Your Digital Business Card for Free Using QR Codes.
Hot tip: Do some pre-networking!
As the event is continuously promoted, you’re bound to see lots of engagement from other people announcing that they’ll be there.
Take a look at their profile, is this someone you’d like to talk with more? Now is the perfect opportunity to connect before the event even starts. A simple “I’ll be there too, maybe we can connect and talk about/I’d like to hear your thoughts on (something related to their expertise)?”
This can be a brilliant icebreaker if you feel awkward about approaching a stranger and striking up conversations.
Okay, you’re prepped and ready, and now it’s show time…
- Dress for success – It’s important to wear something appropriate both for the occasion and the location (no clubwear for the suit and tie event), but while doing so, make sure that your outfit is empowering for you. Add those little details that make it authentically you so that you feel good showing up as your best self. With events like these lasting for hours on end, it’s a big bonus if your outfit is comfortable, too.
- Mindset matters – Pushing aside limiting beliefs is one of the biggest hurdles in the VA space (that’s why it’s a focal point in our free training week and our Virtual Excellence Academy.) But remember that you are a business owner, a solopreneur wearing all the hats in your business. Whether you’ve been in business for 10 days or 10 years, your perspective and insights matter just as much as everyone else’s. Share your voice, share your work and be you.
- Set realistic intentions – Rather than mounting the pressure on ourselves to walk away 5 new clients and 50 warm leads, set intentions based on what you can do and things that are of no pressure to gain.
- I want to speak to at least 7 people.
- I want to make 3 new friends and be myself.
- I want to tell 5 people about what I do and why.
- Focus on genuine connections – this is a “quality over quality” approach, it’s far better to have a handful of meaningful conversations than to run a marathon and greet everyone in the room. Ask people about themselves and engage with genuine interest, put those one-liners and open-ended questions to use. Enter a conversation with the intention of learning and connecting rather than selling or landing a client. After spending time getting to know that person, exchanging business cards will leave a much deeper impression.
Reminder: Notes are your friend!
Whether it’s a notes app on your phone or a trusty pen and paper, taking notes will serve you well after the event is over. (Keep reading!)
Don’t forget to be present in the moment, though. You don’t need to scribble down every word someone says mid-conversation, but after the conversation is over or when you find yourself on a break, use that time to capture some memories while they’re still fresh in your mind.
Your camera is also your friend. Sometimes, business cards can accidentally get lost, snap a picture and you can rest assured you’ll never lose track of it.
Just because the event is over doesn’t mean your work is done. While people are still enjoying that positive energy of the event itself, this is the perfect time to follow up with the connections that you’ve made and transition that offline experience into some online content.
- Followup messages – This is your most important post-event stop. Whether it’s new friends or warm leads, you don’t want to fade from people’s memory. So send emails and DMs to people you’ve connected with, but not just a cookie-cutter “It was great meeting you.” Take the time to include references from your conversation to show that you were genuinely engaged and interested. That small effort to personalize the communication will go a long way.
- Keep it organized – Good thing you were taking notes right? Now that things have all settled down do yourself a favor by organizing your notes. Were there some quotes or gems from a panel that fired content ideas for you, keep that in a content bucket list for future reference. Build a virtual rolodex of your newly made contacts, complete with the details that you remember about them and your interaction. You’ll look like that person who never forgets.
- Share your stories – Attending events can be a content goldmine perfect for boosting your feed or your newsletters and blogs. Recap the event to share what your experience was like and your biggest takeaways. This shows the world that you’re proactive in your niche, even on an in-person level. Don’t forget to tag the event creators and some of the awesome people that you met while you were there.
Bonus tip: Spread the love!
Did you make a new contact at the event that you know will get along great with someone else in your network? Introduce them – they’ll be glad to know you kept them in mind.
Maybe you met someone who needs a social media marketing specialist, and while that may not be your expertise, you just happen to know someone who can get the job done, connect them! In our VEA student community, we often have members dropping in to share leads so that clients can get connected with the right VA for the job, and we love to see it!
Image description: Women with white hair, glasses, red wine in her left hand, is talking to another woman with dark hair who is turning her back to us.
And just like that, you’re creating opportunities!
For a deeper dive into these tips, plus additional tips fine-tuned for my fellow introverts, read our blog post, “7 Event Networking Strategies for Introverts” (plus my tip on how to never forget someone’s name again!)