When you attend a networking event, do you walk away with a roster of new referral partners and potential clients, or do you blend into the crowd and walk away empty-handed?

Or, even worse, do you end up with a bunch of business cards and waste a lot of time on follow-ups, only to eventually discover that the people you’ve spent so much time on are completely uninterested in sending you clients or becoming clients themselves?

Networking events take valuable time, and many of them require extra money for transportation and membership, so it’s important to know how to get a good return on your investment of cash and effort.

Here are five strategies that will help you to get more referral partners and clients from your networking efforts:

Strategy 1: Be authentic

This isn’t so much a strategy as a way of being that will serve you well in every area of life, but I’ve found it particularly valuable in networking events.

When I attended my first business training event, people were captivated by me, and one of them even asked the host to let me speak in front of the group!

Was it because I was an expert in my field? Hardly – I knew more than some people, but I was twenty-three years old, and I didn’t even have my own business yet!

Then why did people want to hear from me so badly?

Because my fearless authenticity made me vibrant, fun and safe to be around, and people wanted to know how they could have that same magnetic quality.

Does that mean you should say everything that comes to mind? Not necessarily, especially if what you’re thinking is unkind or possibly misinformed.

While you’re being candid, it’s important to do so with kindness and tact, and to make sure that you know what you’re talking about.

But if you feel like saying or doing something, and the only thing holding you back is your fear of what people might think of you, go ahead and do it! Your idiosyncrasies help you stand out, and your courage will inspire others to be more freely, fearlessly themselves.

Not only will this cause people to enjoy being around you, but it will enable you to make deeper connections more quickly, because there are no masks in the way.

Strategy 2: Ask, don’t tell

Have you ever had someone just walk up to you and go on a protracted spiel about their product, without even checking to see whether you were interested or they were wasting your time?

Chances are, you didn’t like it – and your potential referral partners don’t, either!

People want to know that they matter to you more than their ability to buy your stuff or send you clients does, and they need to know how your offer aligns with their desires, needs and dreams.

That being the case, it’s important to start by asking questions instead of diving straight into a sales pitch.

Most people love talking about themselves, and this gives you an opportunity to find out what they want, how badly they want it, and whether your product is a good fit, before you even make an offer.

Find out what they want, what’s standing in their way, who they serve, and what challenges and needs their ideal clients have.

Then, when you do describe your product, you can tailor that description to match the needs and obstacles that you already know are important to the other person, which will make it sound like your offer is perfect for them.

Strategy 3: Start with service

Another important element in building your relationship is to give something before you ask for something.

Recommend a solution to their problem, suggest a strategy that will help them get the results they want, or offer support in an area where they’re struggling. Learn about who their ideal client is and what kind of people they want referred to them, and be willing to give referrals before you receive them.

When you do something good for your potential referral partner, they’ll want to do something for you in return.

Strategy 4: Know your target audience, and describe them clearly

Many people try to cast a wide net, hoping to attract as many clients as possible. But if your description of your ideal client is too vague, it sounds like you don’t really know who you want to help, and your referral partners won’t be able to think of anyone who matches that blurry picture.

When you describe your ideal client, potential referral partners should be able to instantly picture the face of someone they know. If they can’t, the description is too vague.

Lacking an ideal client also makes it hard for you to market yourself effectively.

Even if everyone under the sun needs your product, different people will buy for different reasons, and the more precise you can speak about their unique challenges, needs and desires, the more they’ll feel like your product is perfect for them.

All in all, it’s important for you to know who your ideal client is, especially when you’re networking.

Your ideal client description should include:

  1. Their age range.
  2. Their familial status, such as married, single, with children, or without children.
  3. What kind of work they do, and what type of position they hold in their company.
  4. Where they spend time and seek information, when they aren’t too busy to act on that data.
  5. Their level of social media use, internet use, and tech-savviness.
  6. Their level of education, especially in areas that relate to your field.
  7. Where they live.
  8. How much income they make each year.
  9. Whether they rent or own their house.
  10. What problem they have that you can solve more effectively than your competitors can.

Strategy 5: Give specific calls to action

When you suggest the next step in building your relationship, don’t give them something vague like “let’s meet for coffee sometime”. That doesn’t encourage them to take action, and it relegates your next conversation to an undefined “someday” that’s easy to let slip through the cracks.

Instead, give them something very specific and actionable.

For example, you could say, “Let’s meet at Starbucks for an hour next week so we can learn more about each other’s businesses and ideal clients. I’m available at four o’clock on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday; which time works best for you?”

This encourages them to schedule a time right away, instead of necessitating that you spend time sending them emails or phone calls that may or may not get answered, to try to schedule a meeting that might not ever happen.

By using these five strategies, you’ll make more sales, get more referral partners, and spend less time following up and more time changing lives and making money by doing what you love.