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 …
- 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 ..
- 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!!
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Set objectives
- Pick and choose
- Go prepared
- Follow up