Have you ever attended a small business matchmaking or networking event on a whim?

If you decided to be spontaneous and show up to an event without preparing beforehand, you may have struck gold and landed a big client. However, it’s far more likely that you struck out completely, and left the event feeling a bit dejected.

Like so many things in life and business, you get out what you put in. When it comes to matchmaking for small diverse businesses, the preparation you do before the event is just as important as your actions during and after the event – perhaps even more so.Tweet This

Consider following these 10 simple steps to help start a lasting relationship with your dream client at the next event you attend.

1. Get certified.

First thing’s first: your business should be officially certified as a diverse enterprise.

There are many different types of certifications available, from programs through the Small Business Administration to regional and state-level certifications. There are also certifications available if your business is woman-owned, minority-owned, veteran-owned, or LGBT-owned.

The type of certifications you obtain will depend on what kind of business you’re interested in procuring. Many states have Minority Business Enterprise programs to help diverse suppliers obtain government contracts, while the National Minority Supplier Development Council offers certification to help you obtain private sector contracts.

You’ll want to inquire of your prospective client(s) what type of certifications they require so you can be sure to pursue the correct designation.

2. Establish the right goals.

When attending a small business matchmaking event, your goal should not be to walk out the door with a contract in hand. While it’s certainly possible, it’s sort of like eloping with someone you’ve only just met.

Matchmaking events are all about making connections and beginning relationships. Your goals should include making a good impression, connecting on a personal level, and scheduling a follow-up phone call or meeting with the company’s Supplier Diversity representative.

3. Do the (right) research.

Do ample research before the event to determine who’s going to be there and what, exactly, they’re looking for.

This includes research on the companies participating in the matchmaking program, but it also means researching the companies that are sponsoring the event. You might even learn that a company you’re already working with will be attending the event. This is a great chance to meet their Supplier Diversity team and explore opportunities to gain new business within the company.

Take a good, hard look at who the key players are, which types of products and services the company regularly buys, and what needs are right now. You need to know:

  • Who consistently buys what you have to sell?
  • Who has a current need for your products or services?
  • What is the criteria for who they do business with?

The goal of all this research is to get strategic about the meetings you’re going to have. Don’t meet with someone at the event just to meet with him or her. Make sure you know the answers to the aforementioned questions to help increase your chances of making a profitable connection.

4. Audit your online presence.

Are you ready to be “Googled” by a prospective business client? What will the business find if it searches for your company or your name?

  • Audit your online presence to make sure everything that comes up is current, accurate, and positions your brand in the best light possible.
  • Spruce up your LinkedIn profile with recent projects, awards, and recommendations.
  • Optimize your personal LinkedIn profile and company page with relevant keywords related to what the prospect is looking for right now.
  • Consider reworking the wording of your online profiles to appeal to the prospect’s needs.

5. Book the (right) appointment.

Once you’ve signed up to attend the event, pay close attention to all emails you receive and social media posts you see that are related to the event.

Matchmaking appointments are often released in phases, and tend to fill up quickly. It’s crucial to act promptly when slots are released in order to book the meeting you want.

Once you’ve confirmed a matchmaking session with potential clients, your prep work is far from over!

  • Prepare for the meeting by researching the individuals who work in the Supplier Diversity department.
  • Consider reaching out to them on LinkedIn and let them know you’re looking forward to meeting them at the event.
  • Follow them on social media and engage with them in a consistent, appropriate manner, by liking, sharing, or commenting on their content.
  • Position your name and your brand in a way that’s recognizable. This can make them feel like they already know you, and will give you a foundational relationship before the event begins.

6. Pre-register as a diverse supplier.

Many of the companies that will be hosting meetings at the matchmaking event have an online Supplier Diversity Portal where they collect information about your business and search for companies to do business with. Do a quick Google search for “Company Name” + “Supplier Diversity” and you’ll often find the company’s site listed. You’ll want to register and upload all of the related documents requested to have a complete profile on file before the matchmaking event happens.

Supplier Connection is an online network that provides its participating buying members with access to a broad group of small business suppliers like you. By creating a profile for your company, not only do you increase your visibility with Buying Members, you will also be visible to other small businesses. This is another database where you’ll want to register and create a profile for your company before the event.

Registering for these databases before the event can save you time, demonstrate how proactive you are, and incentivize the Supplier Diversity professionals you meet to advocate for opportunities on your behalf.

7. Prepare your hard copy materials.

Walking around handing out your business card isn’t going to cut it at a matchmaking event.

You should also bring:

  1. A copy of your Capability Statement.
  2. A copy of your Company Profile/Company Fact Sheet.
  3. Testimonials from past and current clients/customers.
  4. A bio sheet on the company founders.

There is an art and science to creating aesthetically-pleasing, branded materials that will get you noticed and help the Supplier Diversity professionals you meet to remember you.

  • Use high quality paper with company letterhead and a clear, easy-to-read font for all documents.
  • Make sure each document is only one page in length.
  • Prep all four documents inside a brightly colored folder, along with your business card. Consider using a color that matches your logo and including a sticker logo on the front of the folder.
  • Prepare 3-5 folders for the event.
  • Prepare a digital version of the packet that’s ready to be emailed at a moment’s notice.

8. Craft the perfect pitch.

The way you speak about yourself and your business is just as important as your online presence and marketing materials.

When preparing to speak to the interviewer, practice using clear, succinct language that gets straight to the point.

Be able to clearly articulate….

  • What your company does.
  • What kind of experience you have.
  • Examples of proven results.

Begin by filling in the blanks with the following statements:

  • We help ______________ accomplish ______________. We do this by means of our [products and services].
  • We have worked with ______________________.
  • We have the following certifications: WBE, MBE, VBE, LGBT-owned, State, etc.

Consider using your physical marketing materials to highlight your verbal pitch.

For instance, when mentioning whom you have worked with, pull out your testimonials sheet and show it to the interviewer as you verbally highlight past successes.

9. Rock your interview.

When the big day finally arrives, you may be feeling nervous and excited. Relax! You’ve put in a lot of prep work and it’s about to pay off.

One of the most important skills to have during an interview is the ability to listen more than you talk. Nerves often translate into rambling stories and oversharing. Let the interviewer direct the conversation, and answer their questions directly and specifically.

The more clearly you answer the questions presented to you, the more empowered the interviewer will be to match you with the perfect opportunity.

10. Follow up post-event.

This is the most important step in the matchmaking process. All of your preparation and hard work will have been for nothing if you do not complete this step!

Before you leave the interview, ask the interviewer how he/she prefers to stay in touch. If they seem open to it, schedule a follow-up phone call or meeting right then and there. Next, create a strategic action plan for the days and weeks following the event in order to further cultivate the relationship.

If your goal is to forge an authentic connection with the Supplier Diversity team at your target company, completing these 10 action steps can help you succeed.

Don’t be overly concerned about immediate outcomes and securing a contract. The point of attending a matchmaking event is to start a conversation and build a relationship over time.

If you are persistent about keeping in touch, and quick to respond when your contact reaches out to you, you can be well-positioned to take advantage of profitable opportunities that come your way.