Business Networking 101: Tips for Making Small Talk Less of a Big Deal

Unless you’re a natural born socialite, walking into a room full of professionals at a networking event when you know ID-10067400very few people can be unnerving. In fact, it can be outright frightening for solopreneurs. But solopreneurs have to at times step outside of their comfort zones and step into uncomfortable environments to make connections and grow their base of business prospects.

That doesn’t mean networking has to be a painful experience though. By learning how to hold your own in the art of “small talk,” you can feel more calm, cool and collected and exude confidence as you meet and greet.

Small talk is that ice-breaking chit chat that opens up the door to more substantive conversations. And it’s not all that easy. I can attest to that! But the more you do it, the more second nature it becomes.

Not quite sure what to talk about? Here are some ideas for making conversation – and making small talk less of a big deal – at your next networking function:

  • Offer something notable about the host organization – Do a little research in advance so you can share some tidbit of info about your host when talking with others. Your host is the common denominator between you and other attendees, so focusing on them when starting your conversation will seem natural.
  • Remark about the venue – Pay attention to your surroundings and make positive, observant comments. Just like the host, the venue is common ground shared by you and others. Talking about it will instantly put you on the same page with whoever you’re chatting with.
  • Ask questions – One of the most effective ways to ease the unease that comes with trying to think of clever things to talk about is to simply ask questions and let someone else do the talking. If you’ve just met someone, keep your inquiries centered on the company they work for and what they do professionally. As your conversation progresses, you’ll probably find yourself talking about non-business topics like family, sports, and hobbies. But don’t get too personal right out of the gate.
  • Talk about news and current events – Look online, read the paper or watch the news so you’re in the know about what’s happening in your community, the nation, the world. Just steer clear of sensitive subject areas like politics and religion.

But small talk isn’t all about your topic of conversation. It’s bigger than that! Your success at small talk also depends on your persona and demeanor. It requires an open, positive attitude that’s welcoming to others. Get in the right frame of mind before networking events and make up your mind to:

  • Be warm and friendly – Smile and be personable.
  • Be inclusive – Don’t leave people out who obviously want to engage in conversation.
  • Make good eye contact when talking with someone – And make eye contact with everyone in the conversation, not just one person.
  • Not monopolize any one person’s time – Mingle – and let others do the same.

With just a little preparation and the right mindset, you’ll more easily and agilely start conversations when networking. Although you might find that it takes some time to find your groove, with practice and repeat exposure you’ll be a savvy small talker ready to take on any crowded room of professionals.

What are your tips for making small talk at networking events? How do you break the ice with people you don’t know?

Image courtesy of David Castillo / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

4 Sure-fire Ways to Boost Your Freelance Business

Starting out as a freelancer is exciting – but it can be scary, too. When you’ve got specific income goals you want – or need – to meet, you’ve got to find ways to effectively get the word out about your services. And you’ve got to prove yourself. The pressure is on!

Fortunately, you have it within your power to give your freelance business the boost it needs to move it onward and upward.

  • Don’t be shy! When you decide to enter into the world of freelancing, you need to come out of your shell. It’s up to YOU to raise awareness of your services to everyone you know and then some. Tell everyone you come in contact with (friends, family, doctors, your kid’s teachers, fellow gym rats, former work colleagues, your pastor, the guy in line behind you at the grocery store, and on and on) what you’re doing and that you’re ready to serve clients. Seriously, prospective clients sometimes come from the most unexpected places. For example, I met three clients through taking Kung Fu classes at a local martial arts studio. You just never know – so view every interaction as a potential opportunity.
  • Beef up your portfolio with pro bono work. If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, volunteering your skills and talent can help you build a repository of real world samples to share. Even as an established freelancer, a portfolio is essential to show prospects what you’re capable of. But as a new solopreneur, it’s even more important because you won’t have a long-standing reputation to back you up. And doing pro bono work can also help you garner testimonials from prominent people within your business community. Just be sure to temper the time you spend on volunteer endeavors – if you over-commit, you’ll find it difficult to focus on growing your business.
  • Link up with LinkedIn.  And for goodness sake, complete your profile! LinkedIn is the most powerful professional social network online. Yes, it takes some upfront time to set it up, but it’s easy, intuitive and FREE. With a profile that’s well-written and full of relevant information about your experience, skills and capabilities, you increase your chances of getting found by prospects looking for a professional in your field in your geographic area. For me, my time on LinkedIn has absolutely paid off. 15% of my clients have come directly through LinkedIn – most of them are local, but they also include a mobile-app development company based in NYC who found me via a search for a freelancing marketing content writer geographically located in the Lancaster, PA area. Yes, LinkedIn can be a freelancer’s best friend.
  • Spend a little – time and money. To make it as a freelancer, you’ve got to invest yourself to the cause. That means spending time on establishing your personal brand. Social media networks give you a phenomenal opportunity to do that. The key to success is to consistently put forth the effort to build a loyal following around your professional persona. And consider putting some cold hard cash toward making yourself known in your local business community. Local chambers of commerce and networking organizations provide all sorts of face-to-face meeting opportunities that – over time – enable you to develop strong professional relationships that lead to new clients. Just remember, what you get out of memberships to these organizations directly reflects what you put into them. Don’t expect to attend just one mixer all year and walk away with a dozen leads. Besides the promise of new business, I love my chamber membership for the opportunity to maintain a personal connection with existing clients and other wonderful people in our local community. Though I’m a huge fan of social media, nothing beats talking up close and personal.

Above all, be diligent in all of your efforts to build your freelance business. There’s no fast track to success. Developing your reputation, assembling a respectable portfolio and making the right connections will take not only time, but also a heck of a lot of energy. Remember to keep your eye on the prize – a career of flexibility, variety and limitless possibilities – and you’ll stay motivated to move forward.

What strategies and tactics have helped you build your freelance business the most? What online and offline networking efforts have delivered results?