How to make the most out of networking events

by Lee Nelson

How to make the most out of networking events

Tracey Williams attends a networking event at least once a week. It’s a significant time investment, but as the president and managing broker of TEAM Real Estate Services in Oak Park, Williams understands how important it is to her business.

“You have to go to events,” she said. “Go wherever there are other business people. Get involved in things around you and things you love.”

Being involved is just part of Williams’ personality. She serves as president of the Women’s Council of Realtors Chicago and is the treasurer for Women’s Council Illinois. But outside of her official duties, she also attends chamber of commerce meetings, community events, church dinners and much more in order to get to know other business leaders in the Chicagoland area.

In real estate, networking can be the catalyst to getting more involved in the community, building lasting relationships and hopefully increasing your referrals. Kimmylea Taylor, owner and designer of LimeLight Expressions in Omaha, has been creating networking events for years from small affairs to big galas. But she understands the particular need for real estate agents and brokers to attend such events, as she has designed networking events for NP Dodge, one of the largest real estate companies in her city, for the last nine years: “As a real estate professional, you need to get your name out there.”

The importance of non-real estate contacts

While it’s vital to get to know other agents and brokers in your community, meeting and building relationships with the home inspectors, tax attorneys, lenders and moving company owners at events can help you serve your clients better.  

Through the years, Williams has gathered hundreds of names, numbers and email addresses through the events she attends. Those names include everyone from snow removal business owners to moving company executives to plumbers to flooring experts. Her clients benefit from her networking because she is able to compile a big list of trusted vendors to help them in any of their ventures with buying or selling their homes. “As real estate agents, we are problem solvers. We are the handlers and the fixers for our clients,” Williams said.

More than just business

But it’s not just building up a list of professionals who can help your clients. Real estate networking events can run the gamut from a small gathering for coffee to a big shindig with speakers and activities. It’s important to choose events carefully and tailor them to your goals.

With how busy everyone is these days, it’s important to see networking events as not only a chance to meet new people, but also an opportunity to unwind and enjoy one’s community. Taylor has been planning more and more events as explicitly family-friendly, as more young professionals want to also spend time with spouses and young children. “The more family-friendly people make it, the more people love it. We have had magicians, balloon artists, face painters, a lasso guy, bonfires, raffle prizes and more,” she said.

Taylor noted similar successes with networking events that also benefit local charities. “It’s all about giving back to the community,” she said. “It’s a great way to help others out while socializing and building your circle.”

Be realistic about goals

If you’re at a big event with hundreds of people, it won’t really benefit you or your business to try to meet everyone. Darrah Brustein is the founder of Network Under 40, a company based in Atlanta that puts on variety of networking events ranging from intimate dining to more than 500 people at one gathering. She advised real estate professionals to focus on quality rather than quantity: “If you talk to three to five people and have meaningful conversations, that’s better than trying desperately to meet everyone.”

Brustein said her best best advice is to never go to a networking event looking for client. “You need to go with the outlook of how you can help other people,” she said. “Start a relationship and look for partnerships. They are more fruitful. People will open many doors for you over time if you have a mutual relationship. Don’t go to a networking event trying to sell something.”

Real conversations

While many assume networking events are for extroverts, Brustein said there’s a secret weapon that introverts bring to the networking table. “Introverts ask great questions,” she said.  “If you listen more, you will build rapport.”

That’s the tactic Williams said she takes when attending events. Rather than starting with an elevator pitch, she simply lets other attendees know who she is, and then starts asking about their lives. “I ask everyone questions,” Williams said. “I engage with them and really listen. I truly genuinely care about what they are talking about.”

In fact, Brustein advised real estate professionals throw out some of the traditional networking activities in order to build better relationships. Start out by simply sharing your name, she said, but don’t offer a title until someone asks you. She also advised against asking what someone else does because it makes people feel like they are in a transaction. Finally, only give business cards out if someone asks for one. Wait until you actually make a connection, and use the card as a catalyst to continue a conversation or relationship.

How to be present at events

After you’ve thought about your goals for the event, Taylor noted it can be a whole different ball game when it comes to putting your plan into action. She’s often watched attendees wander around the room or stand in the corner by themselves. “You have to go up and introduce yourself. You never know where that will lead,” she said.

It may be tempting to show up fashionably late, but Brustein suggested arriving within the first hour of the event. Perhaps surprisingly, she said promptness is especially important for a looser gathering such as a happy hour. This way attendees are still fresh and not already heading out the door.

If you’re not sure where to stand, Brustein offered a few suggestions, such as strategically placing yourself kitty-corner from the bar or buffet table. This means you’re in the perfect spot for someone to turn toward once they get their drink or food. Often, she said, people are thankful there is someone there to talk to right away. You can also sit at an empty table, and people may come to you because they don’t know many people either. But make sure you don’t stare into your phone at that empty table, as this puts up a subtle “do not disturb” sign to other attendees.

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