Business Networking is an effective business tool for all smaller businesses, providing a platform to meet like-minded individuals and build connections for growth and development, both professionally and individually. There are a variety of networking groups and events out there to choose from at various price points and all offering different opportunities. Below are some ‘Top Tips’ to ensure that you get the best out of your investment.
Have a strategy
Think about what you want to achieve:
- Raise your company profile
- Gain new contacts and learn new skills
- Generate referrals
If you are new to networking, visit as many events as possible, talk to the regulars and find out if the group will fit in with your strategy before making a regular commitment.
- Create a simple 60 second ‘elevator pitch’ which describes your business and your objectives clearly and concisely, include your professional expertise and USPs
- Be memorable, in a room full of others what makes your business stand out from the crowd?
- Bring props, not just marketing materials and business cards, something that visually shows off your expertise or helps others to understand what it is you do
- Quote testimonials from your satisfied customers, demonstrate
how your product or service has helped others
Get out of your comfort zone
It’s only natural to gravitate towards people that you already know, if you find yourself in this situation, scan the room for people you have yet to meet, facilitate the opportunity for them to join in the conversation. Look out for new people, remember how you first felt when you turned up to somewhere new, a friendly introduction will be much appreciated.
Networking is a slow burn, it takes a while to build up trust within a group. Attend regularly, help others and have an effective follow up. Networking is about building up your network and relationships. You
might not immediately get business from an event but one person you speak to might open a number of doors.
Take an interest in others and find out what they want to achieve from the event/meeting
- See if their objective matches yours and find some common ground
- Can you help them through your own network contacts connections or make introductions that might be of interest either from a supplier need, a client perspective or strategic partnership?
- Ask open ended questions such as how, who, why; this will help to open up discussions and demonstrate your interest. You will be amazed at what you can learn from others!
It’s not what happens at the event, it is what you do after that is most important.
Be pro-active in follow ups, use social media to connect with people you have met and ensure that you follow up anything that you have said you were going to do in a timely fashion.
Have separate 121’s with key individuals outside of the networking sessions, this will also help to avoid getting into any lengthy conversations during the event that may prevent you from meeting other people.
Make referrals or introductions
Where possible, always provide the person you are referring to with a way of getting in touch directly with your contact, maybe cc them into an email, check back on progress and see if it was of value.
If you were introduced or recommended by someone, keep the person who made the introduction up to date with the progress/outcome. If it was successful, a positive action would be to thank them publicly at the next meeting, as this not only demonstrates to others that the network is working, it can help to build both your and the referrer’s credibility within the group. If an introduction wasn’t relevant, provide feedback as to the reasons why and how they can identify more positive ones in the future for you.
- Are you achieving your objectives?
- How much business is generated through this activity either directly or by introductions/referrals?
- Compare your findings against the cost of investments, be sure to factor in your own cost per hour.
Never just push your business card or leaflets into people’s hands, networking should be about building relationships, trust and credibility. You may have a service or offering that might be relevant to the attendees but a hard sell in this type of environment is often deemed crass, and doesn’t give out a good first impression. Networking is about helping others; “sell through the room not to the room” and by default may result in some direct sales.
And finally Number 10 - Dress to impress
Looking and feeling good is vital for your networking confidence. This doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit, just appropriate, clean attire for your line of business. A professionally produced name badge worn just below your right hand shoulder will help others to approach you easily and avoid any awkwardness in having to recall your name which will also help with introductions.
- Shake hands with people and make eye contact
- Smile and ensure your body language is open and friendly
- Be memorable for the right reasons
- It’s a fact that people prefer to do business with people they know, like and trust, networking can be an effective tool to help you achieve success