Networking has to be one of the most popular ways to meet new clients or collaborators these days. Not only is it ‘on trend’, it really does work.
Just think, as a small or micro business the part that your clients or customers buy in to is you; you are your brand. So what better way is there than speaking to a 10, 20 maybe 40 people in a 2 hour session where they are meeting you, being introduced to your brand, learning the solutions you offer and starting to build relationships with you when you didn’t even know they were out there.
Having said that, out of those ‘however many’ people you speak to you might only find a small percentage need your solutions right now; others may need some time to realise they need you and others are never going to need you – but all is not wasted! As those new contacts you make will have at least one other circle of colleagues/contacts/friends that you won’t know and, if they buy in to you, they will be willing to share your solutions and contact details with those other groups of potential clients.
And we all know that word of mouth recommendation is by far a better way of advertising your business than anything else!
Networking can be found in a number of guises. There’s the traditional, more structured approach where you can visit an established group as a guest once or twice and then decide to officially join (by payment) the group or not. Or there’s the other end of the spectrum where you can speed network; literally spending no more than about a couple of minutes in front of another business owner before you are moved on to the next. And many more versions in between.
The key is finding what suits you and making the most of every networking event that you attend. So here are my top 10 tips (some of which I learnt at a fabulous networking event I attended recently, Inspire, created specifically for the North East of England, where the guest speaker was Ann Barkas, business consultant) to make your networking as effective as possible:
- Try as many types of events you can – whether it is an early morning breakfast meeting, a formal meeting, a local networking group, a business expo or a speed networking event, try them all. Find the style that you prefer or feel most comfortable with and research when/where they are and how often they are hosted.
- Be Specific – try to establish which events have the attendees from whom you are likely to get the most business or offer you the best match to your target audience (other small businesses?, health & wellbeing?, corporates?).
- Diarise the events so you can prepare beforehand – make sure they are in your diary and you clear some time either side for travelling or if the meeting spills over the alloted finish time.
- Be prepared – be clear about how you introduce yourself and your business (it could be a version of your ‘elevator pitch’ or ’60 second story’). If you can do, get a list of attendees prior to the event so you can pinpoint who you want to speak to – any one else is a bonus!
- Be on time – if you can, try to get there at the meeting start time so you maximise your time there. Plus it is far less daunting being the first or second person arrive in to that room and establish a connection straight away than walking in half an hour after start time to a busy, bustling room which can be harder to negotiate and intervene in other already established conversations.
- Take a friend – now I don’t mean just your bestie or your next door neighbour, but ideally someone who also has a business and could gain some benefit from attending the meeting too. You know the saying ‘safety in numbers’? If you’re feeling nervous about going by yourself the first time, enter the room with someone else but be sure to split up, there’s no point in going to only speak to someone you already know for 2 hours!
- Have a plan – if you’re able to plan who to speak to, but if you can’t do that set yourself a target. Maybe to get 3+ business cards, speak to 10+ people, build on a relationship you may have already started previously.
- Take notes! Either take a small notebook with you to discretely write notes in following a conversation or at the end of the networking meeting. Alternatively ask permission to write on your new contact’s business card. You can then be sure that when you’re following up you know what you discussed, what they were particularly interested in and perhaps any actions you or they need to take.
- Follow up – for so many businesses following up is crucial. Follow up all of your new contacts (unless there’s someone you really don’t want to help share your business?!) within 48 hours either with a phone call or an email, connect on Linked In or via social media (or both!). This lets the new contact know that you really did appreciate meeting them, you’d like to build a relationship with them and that you are ‘on the ball’. Ensure that before the networking event you diarise some time specifically for your followups, then you have a reminder and some accountability to yourself. By leaving your follow ups much longer, it may result in you forgetting to follow up at all and them forgetting about you.
- Be You! The whole point of networking is for people you don’t know to get to know you and your business solutions. Be authentic and interested. Listen to what others have to say and don’t pre-judge, you never know who might be needing what you offer but perhaps don’t quite know it yet. Be genuine, honest and act with integrity – qualities that should come naturally given you probably use them every single day.
- Oh and an added extra – enjoy it! I have made some fabulous connections, clients, friends, potential clients purely through networking. And sometimes even if you just find one like-minded person at one meeting, it could be just what you need for accountability or moral support on your journey to success.
So get yourself out there, be brave and sing your story to as many people as you can. It might seem daunting to begin with, but like anything, the more you practice the better you become. Everyone is human, no-one is perfect and we all have to start somewhere – but please just start, just do it now!