Networking is something that, on the face of it, is easy to do. You can literally just register and turn up to one of the many open networking events advertised on Eventbrite, or via local business pages, or organisations. We hold our own Business Village networking event each month – First Friday Breakfast Networking, where as well as getting to meet other business owners, you also get a butty and a cuppa to start the day with! We’ve seen some fantastic business relationships begin over a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea on a Friday morning. But there are three questions that we get asked almost every time we discuss networking with entrepreneurs and new business owners…
- Is networking really so simple?
- Does networking really work?
- Is it worth taking time away from my business to network?
Well, the answer to all three questions is the same…
– It can be; it really depends on what you put into it.
In an age where a lot of interaction is done remotely, networking events are a great way to forge new business connections. Face-to-face conversations are more memorable than a comment on social media and lead to the creation of more long-lasting relationships.
Of course, you can’t just show up and expect everyone to be falling over themselves to talk to you and find out what your business does. You need to go in there with a plan. So, here are our top tips for successful networking:
Set an objective for what you want to get out of any networking event.
Your time is valuable. Networking, like any other business activity, must have a tangible return in order for it to be worth your investment. If you’re investing your own time in an activity, it’s taking you away from the important job of running your business. Yes, there’s a social aspect to networking, but if that’s all you get out of it, your business doesn’t benefit. Think of networking as you would any other marketing opportunity, it requires planning, investment and follow up, in order to yield a return.
Some of the main reasons for businesses attending networking events are, to become more familiar with the local business community; to build a contact list of companies you may wish to work with in the future, (as either suppliers or buyers); or it could be to pick up hot new business leads. Whatever the reason, you need to prepare. Make sure you have contact details – business cards, obviously and maybe even flyers or brochures.
Create versions of your quick pitch, or ‘elevator pitch’ that match the objectives you have set. This could mean you have one pitch for potential customers, one for possible suppliers and another for general business contacts. Write them down and make sure you get the key points in, within a maximum of around ten seconds. Practice delivering them.
Research networking events and find those that are most relevant to your objectives.
Local networking events are excellent for getting yourself and your business known in the area. You’ll often find a mixture of new businesses and established companies, with a wealth of experience in different sectors. There’ll also be a room filled with people who have dealt with the many challenges of starting a business and can offer advice and introductions to help you solve problems.
Business Hubs and Managed Workspaces are often good places for networking. Sometimes businesses will organise networking sessions, sometimes tagged onto a paid event and of course, business organisations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses and local authority enterprise programmes will also have numerous networking opportunities in their calendars.
The key is to do your homework, see what’s on offer – such as guest speakers, free workshops, etc. Check social media and see if there’s a buzz around a particular event, check out who usually goes along and what people are saying about it. Even better, if you already know someone who goes to a networking event, see if you can tag along. That way you also get the benefit of introductions too.
Ask questions and show interest.
Whilst essentially networking is a marketing activity, it isn’t only about selling. If you go into any networking event completely blinkered to your own required outcomes and talk about yourself and your business constantly, you won’t be very successful. Ask questions and listen actively to what others are saying. Take an interest in them and their business.
When you attend local events it’s vital that you mingle and sit with people you don’t know. Expand your horizons and find out about the other businesses and people who are at the event. It’s likely you’ll bump into many of these people again, they might just have the introduction you need one day, so it’s worth getting to know as many of them as possible.
Networking is a gentle marketing activity, where the key aim is to develop relationships and build your contacts, with the aim of gaining new business or referrals and introductions. It’s very unlikely that you’ll come away from a networking event with a big new order, but that could be the outcome further down the line, when you’ve nurtured the new contacts.
Use your time effectively.
It’s easy to get caught up chatting with someone and running out of time to talk to other people. Find a way of excusing yourself that is professional and polite. Thank the person for their time, tell them you’ve enjoyed speaking with them and reiterate anything you’ve said you will do, such as follow their page online, send them the information they’ve requested, etc.
Many networking events are early morning and people will be heading off to the office straight afterwards. They may be pushed for time, so do try to stay mobile as much as possible and speak to as many people as you can.
Remember to follow up.
Follow and link up with people you’ve met whilst networking. Follow them on social media, like their business page. Most importantly of all though, interact. Comment and engage with them.
If they expressed an interest in any of your products or services, you can proactively send some additional information. You could drop them an email to say you enjoyed meeting them and if it would be beneficial, asking if they’d be happy to have a meeting with you to see if there are any commercial opportunities you could explore together. Remind them of who you are and what your business does, give them your website address.
Above all, remember that networking is part of a process, not a means to an end in itself. You need to fully engage with that process if you are to benefit from it. If you would like to attend the Business Village First Friday Breakfast Networking, we’d be very happy to welcome you.
You can find full details of all our networking opportunities and events on our website