Networking is quite simple – it just means the various ways to meet and interact with other businesses and potential customers. You may have heard people say that networking is just an excuse to take some time out of the office, a distraction from ‘real work’, but it is a wonderful opportunity to grow your business by forming partnerships and building relationships. You are the person who can convey the most passion for what you do, and networking gives you a way of speaking directly to potential customers.
There is also the chance you will find someone offering a professional service or product that is the solution to something that’s been holding your business back and you might even make some friends along the way. Generally, if someone has made the effort to attend a networking session then they are interested in growing their business and making meaningful connections with like-minded people – and that’s worth its weight in gold.
Of course, networking may seem a little scary if you’re not used to standing up and speaking in front of other people, but hopefully this blog will give you some pointers to get the most out of networking, however you choose to do it. Just remember, no one can speak as passionately about what you do as you can, so you just need to focus on the rest.
The different types of business networking
You might immediately think of formal networking events with lots of business people standing around in suits drinking coffee and passing each other business cards prior to heading into the office for the day.
This is still the case at some events, but there are more informal networking formats that will help you to meet people and lots of other ways you can effectively network – visiting trade shows, product launches, industry awards and on social networks.
Check to see if there is a local ‘Business Hour’ or industry gathering hosted on Twitter where you can follow the hashtag (for example #cotswoldbusinesshour) and network with other businesses in your area or industry.
See also: Five free forms of marketing
Preparing for success
Like every single part of business, make a plan and be sure to keep linking networking back to your overall business goals. What do you want to achieve by going to an event or sitting in front of your computer monitoring a Twitter hashtag for an hour, who do you hope to meet or connect with? Having said that, be prepared for the outcome to be something totally unexpected (hopefully better) to what you planned. After all, you will only be one half of any new business relationship formed.
If you are attending a face-to-face networking event make sure you have crafted an elevator pitch about you, your product or your service. Elevator pitches are persuasive speeches that you use to explain and spark interest in your business, but should be succinct enough to be presented during a short elevator ride – so just 30 to 60 seconds. You may not have to stand up and speak, but preparing something like this makes you think about how to talk to someone who has no idea what you do. And trust me, it helps.
If you are networking online, it’s a very good idea to make sure your online presence is cohesive, up to date and working. It would be a waste of your time if you manage to get someone’s attention who could become a customer, send them a link and then your website isn’t working.
Relax – you’ll be surprised how much you can enjoy networking
When you arrive at a networking event, try to treat the people there in the same way you would if you were at a social event. You want the real you to stand out, so be approachable and friendly and don’t think you need to put on a sales face. Let your passion shine through and convey successes in a way that is honest and clear, but not boastful.
Remember that networking is a two-way street, so take your time with people and pay attention to what they are saying. Bear in mind your other connections, and where you can refer people to them. For example, if someone is looking for a good web designer and you have one that you use and love, make sure you mention them. It gives you brownie points and people will remember a good deed.
Think about quality not quantity – heading back home with five new contacts who really understand what you do is far better than having 25 business cards from people you can’t remember the name of. Make sure you follow up in a timely manner – if someone was impressed by you at an event, send them your information while it’s still fresh in their mind.