by Princess Jones

Many small business owners have a love/hate relationship with networking. We know we need to do it, but it’s hard to commit. We have to find the time in our already packed schedules. We have to make conversation with strangers. We have to make ourselves sound interesting. It’s enough to make you give up before you’ve started.

But don’t give up. We’ve all made networking mistakes, but it’s easy to get back into the saddle. Here are some tips to get you started.

Not having an elevator speech.

You need an elevator pitch — a succinct way to tell people what you do and who you do it for. Be as specific as possible. Here are a few examples:

I write and design marketing content for food and drink businesses.

My company makes and delivers toys for all of the good children in the world every December 25th.

I provide crime fighting services to the citizens of Gotham City.

Note how all of these are very simple statements. There are nuances to every business, but your elevator speech is not the time to explain them. It’s an opener. You’ll have the chance to talk about individual projects or passions as the conversation progresses.

Not having business cards.

Yes, it’s 2016 and there are numerous ways to share contact information with prospects — apps, social networks, etc. But it’s your job to make networking with you as easy as possible. Not everyone has that app. Not everyone is on that social network. No one wants you to write down your contact details on the back of a cocktail napkin. Just have a business card. You may never need it but when you do, you’ll be happy you have it if you do.

Networking with our peers instead of our prospects.

Have you ever been at a networking event and almost every elevator speech you hear is just like yours? It means that your networking with business owners too similar to yourself. That’s fine for friendship and for skills growth, but you can’t grow your business if you’re only networking with people who do what you do.

So if you own a restaurant, you want to get to know the other restaurateurs in your area. They can be both your competition and your resources. They know exactly what you’re going through because they are likely going through the same thing. But that should be a small percentage of who you are networking with. Most of your energy should be spent making connections with those you can partner with — event planners, food bloggers, restaurant reviewers, dining clubs, etc. You get the picture.

Making it all about us.

The biggest mistake you can make networking is being selfish. We’ve all been in the room with someone who treats networking like a shark hunt. They flit from person to person in the room, staying just long enough to talk about themselves and hurl a business card at your head.

If this is you, stop it. Stop it now.

Networking is not about how many people you can tell about yourself in a minute. It’s about getting to know other people. Sure, you’re targeting people you might be able to partner with to benefit your business. But that doesn’t mean you forego the most important part of networking — making a connection.