Networking, Breakfast Lunch & Tea!

Anyone in business cannot fail to notice the enormous amount of opportunities there are out there for networking. I must get about ten offers a week, and I’m being conservative. In fact if you planned ahead you could even cover off breakfast, lunch and evening meal at these events.

Whilst it is fantastic that we have an almost-endless means to connect with our peers it does raise the question of how valuable an avenue for growing a business these events actually are.

Having been a networking junkie for many years I think I can take a reasonable punt at what’s going to drive your business forward and what will end up being at best a pleasant way to pass an hour or two.

Firstly, find a network that suits your need. For example, if you want to develop your supply chain then seek out a sector specific network, the sort run by cluster groups promoting automotive, maritime, professional service, digital and creative etc. Not only will you likely link easily to those you want to speak to but these type of groups tend to provide high quality intelligence about the sector in question as an added bonus.

If you are a small business with a fairly straightforward and understandable proposition and you are looking for multiple sales then perhaps take a look at the likes of the semi-masonic style BNI. This innovation from the States is based around the principle of having only one company of a type per chapter (network group). They tend to meet weekly and the members of which then make up your salesforce and will pass you referrals. But be prepared, although this type of networking can be very lucrative, this is not for the faint hearted and you do have to work at getting referrals for the members of your chapter, it’s not a one-way street!

Which ever type of format of networking event you choose to do there are some useful ground rules that you might be advised to observe and these include …

  1. Be persistent  – Don’t simply go now and then, if it’s a regular weekly or monthly event get there as often as you possibly can. Through this you start to build relationships with the other ‘regulars’ as it really is all about, primarily the people attending and secondly the business they are representing, because ..
  2. It’s not them it’s who they know – You might fall lucky and the person in the room wants your product or service for them or their company. However, more often than not your best chance of a valuable connection will come from someone they can identify who might value what your business is offering. And, remember, much might depend whether they like you or not!!
  3. Set expectations  – It might be as ambitious as to secure a sale, fair enough, or it might simply be to have three conversations with attendees you haven’t spoken to before. Whatever your goals think them through beforehand and you are less likely to simply come away feeling deflated
  4. Convey information, not a sales pitch – Direct question – Do you like being sold at? Probably not, so it’s likely that the other attendees wouldn’t want you doing it ether. You probably have a great story to tell about your business, anecdotes, some stats, your best customer types etc. so tell them that, and it keeps the conversation fresh until there is a mutual opportunity to talk direct business
  5. Go equipped – Don’t forget the attendees may speak to many people over the course of the event so ensure that you have (as a bare minimum) your business cards. It may even be possible to write on the card what action you have discussed with the person you are giving it to so they don’t forget.
  6. Pick a time that suits your emotions – Don’t go to a breakfast meeting if you hate everyone before 8am! Or an evening meeting if you are ready for bed at 7pm. Pick a time when you are most alert and able to be your best.
  7. And finally, follow up – Ensure that you contact those that you said you would with an email or LinkedIn, or whatever you feel appropriate. We in the UK generally do business best when we know the people we are dealing with, and keeping in touch after a networking event often is the first step to developing a strong mutually beneficial relationship.

Key Points

  • Availability is everywhere quality is not
  • Not all networks are suitable
  • Set expectations / objectives
  • Mental preparation is essential
  • Come prepared  – materials
  • It’s not about the event but the people
  • Convey information not a sales pitch
  • It’s not them but who they know
  • Pick a time that suits your emotions
  • Post networking follow up

Key Messages

  • Set objectives
  • Pick and choose
  • Go prepared
  • Follow up

Have a Strategy not a Business Plan

Question 1  – Has your company ever had a business plan?

Question 2  – Has it been a document that has driven your business forward and inspired you to take action?

If you are one of the very small minority of businesses owners / managers that can answer positively to both of the above then fantastic and I’d love to see a version of your plan!! Sadly most who answer yes to Question 1 can not honestly say it has made a jot of difference to their business, and they possibly couldn’t find the plan if they tried.

So why do they fail so dramatically to make  difference? Perhaps it’s because they are constructed in a haphazard manner simply to fulfil a specific purpose such as securing funding and then discarded once the money arrives and the ‘real’ work begins. The company is then too busy to spend time on something as seemingly unproductive as planning.

Or they fail to bring to life the business and what it wants to achieve because they contain too much information in a long narrative style that is not in keeping with the natural style of the person who should be delivering it.

For better or worse having a plan really is a very good idea. If you don’t know where you are going then any road will take you there, and you may not like where you end up. However, it needs to inspire you and your employees to reach for your vision and most business plans simply don’t.

Perhaps a better way to look at planning, especially if you are a small and medium enterprise (SME), is to set out a consistent way you would want to address certain aspects of running your business, in effect define a ‘company philosophy’.

I would suggest that this document should be modular or piecemeal in that the resolution of each aspect can stand alone and be used on its own when needed in the day to day running of the company.

The sort of modular issues that I often support my clients in addressing can include … •Establishing a vision for the company that is supported by a series of achievable goals •Defining the type of relationships that the company wants with its customers and suppliers and how this can happen •Creating a set of brand values that will become embedded in the company and dictate how it operates and communicates •Formulating the way the company will differentiate itself in the market and be perceived by customers

All these issues, and many more, are critically important and need to be resolved but they also need to be in a format that is easily communicated to staff and other stakeholders and as such I would recommend use of illustrations and imagery above simply words. Often when pictures, models and diagrams are used they replace the need for pages of narrative.

Of course in addition to the above it is good practice to produce revenue and cashflow forecasts but this should support your ‘company philosophy’ and not just be a means to an end in getting finance in or satisfying an accountant or a shareholder.

And finally if your business strategy is created in a format that you and all your staff fully embrace the task of review and amend should be an on-running process and not to be feared at the end of the year.  

Key Points

  • Too many business plans follow a worthless format
  • Keep it simple and keep it clear
  • Consistency is the essence of a good business strategy
  • Business strategy inspires and sets direction
  • Think about your formats
  • Engagement is not a given

Big Messages

  • Keep it simple
  • Make it work not dormant
  • Get the message out there

Strategy Blog Page

Many thanks for accessing my site and reading about the services I provide for businesses. On this page I have published some of my thoughts on business from a strategic development perspective and I hope some of them can be of use to you.