I am surprised at how many small-business owners do not network, or network so infrequently and unsuccessfully that they never get to experience the full benefit of it:
“A ComRes poll for the British Library shows that 62% of British Adults have never attended a networking event. And if we do try to network, we don’t enjoy it – half of those surveyed (51%) describe feeling uncomfortable while networking”
Although meeting new people can be a daunting experience, it is important to remember that everyone is at a networking event for the same reason – for the benefit of their small business. Yes, some people are more confident than others, and some people can be quite over-enthusiastic, even forceful, when it comes to promoting their own business, but the likelihood is that they’re not trying to be aggressive, they’re just exceptionally keen! If you are able to work the room effectively, being polite and interested in the work of others (even if you aren’t particularly interested!), then you will set yourself apart as an approachable person in the networking group, drawing people to you for easy and comfortable dialogue. However, this doesn’t mean that you need to spend hours talking to people who you cannot foresee building an ongoing business relationship with – if you find that your business needs don’t meet up, politely move on having made a positive impression as an interesting and engaging individual, as you never know who might refer business on to you once you’ve met and impressed them! You’ll find more success with this technique than by blindly pressing your business cards, however snazzy, into the hands of everyone at the event without pausing to properly introduce yourself, or to make an effort to learn more about your fellow networkers.
The key to a successful Networking event is to go in prepared. Do you have enough business cards? Do you have some relevant literature for those people who may want to learn more about what you do? Can you confidently and concisely describe what it is that you do? This is a particularly important thing to consider, especially if you have to give a one- or two- minute ‘elevator pitch’ during the networking event. Another useful tip is to do your research – in many cases, it is possible to find out who will be attending a networking event a few days in advance. This can prove very useful if you are looking for the help and support of a specific type of business, and is something that you can even mention in your one minute networking pitch, i.e. ‘Today, I’d really like to speak to a Website Marketing Specialist’ so that your potential networking contact knows you are trying to reach out to them.
Once your networking event is over, don’t rest on your laurels! Be proactive and follow-up any potential leads that you have made within 48 hours of the networking event. As with the networking event itself, it often works best not to be too forceful with the sales talk! If you are communicating with a potential customer, mention something about their business, i.e., ‘I’ve taken a look at your website – it looks great!’ before suggesting how you might be able to help them. If you are reaching out to a Business Owner who offers a service that may be beneficial to you, offer them some relevant help and support in exchange for their expert advice – it could be the start of a beautiful business relationship!
For those who lack the time to visit networking events, worry not! Although I heartily recommend physical networking, networking via Social Media sites (such as LinkedIn) has dramatically increased in popularity over the last few years, and it is possible to build positive business relationships with potential customers and ‘competitors’ alike if you are able to use this tool effectively. According to a Business2Community blog (http://www.business2community.com/infographics/25-linkedin-facts-statistics-need-share-infographic-01084172), 1 in 3 professionals on the planet are on LinkedIn – a total of 332 million unique members. That’s one impressive networking event! As with physical networking, the basic principles remain the same; firstly, you need to ‘be prepared’ and ensure that all the personal information on your profile is complete, correct and effectively written. On LinkedIn, your profile is your first impression, so you need to make sure it is a good one! Secondly, you need to ‘do your research’ and reach out to potential customers or businesses that may be able to help you, briefly explaining why you think a business relationship would be successful. As with physical networking, you also need to ‘follow up’ potential leads within a week of initial contact – this should help to show that you are serious about working with them, without bombarding them with sales-focused emails. Hopefully, you will find success networking online – and with 332 million people to network with, the odds are definitely in your favour!
Whether you decide to attend networking events, or to network online (or combine the two for maximum impact), I wish you all the very best! I have found great success through a range of networking events – from Ladies only networking events, to local and national Business Networking meetings, and even joining networking groups of individuals who work in the same field as me! It can be daunting, but the rewards can be significant; so don’t delay, sign up for a networking event in your area today! I promise you won’t regret it.