The thought of networking can fill some people with dread. They can’t think of anything worse than being in a room full of strangers. I have been there myself too.
I used to run and manage events when I was in the magazine media industry. Because it was ‘my’ event, many of the delegates that were there, I had spoken to before via emails and/or phone calls so striking up a conversation face-to-face was much easier. However, there were occasions when I attended other events and found myself in a room full of complete strangers. It was so daunting! Especially when I saw clusters of people already chatting – I assumed they already knew each other…or did they?
Over the years, I learned two top tips that I would like to share with you now:
I remember once being at an awards night and there, during the welcome drinks reception, was a well-known comedian looking a little bit lonely and awkward. He was watching people milling about below from where he was standing on a balcony. I went over and said ‘hi’. As it turned out, a magazine that he was writing a column for was up for an award. We had a chat for a short while and before we parted company he thanked me for coming over and introducing myself. So remember, even those in the public eye that appear confident can turn up to an event and feel anxious and alone. As humans, we all appreciate someone extending a welcoming hand of friendship, however fleeting that may be.
Networking events…why should you bother?
It’s simple; people buy from people. If you find that you are not getting enough new business in and you could do with new opportunities, it’s time to get out and network.
As a business owner, I believe that it is extremely important to participate in this activity and network as much as your diary will allow. The bottom line is that you just don’t know who you are going to meet and what opportunities may arise - and that’s the exciting part of it! Perhaps you will find someone who requires your service, or meet a company that can provide you with a must have product. If nothing else you can find out what is going on in your community and begin building important links and form long lasting relationships.
Last week, the YBC – Your Business Community launched a new meet up in our local area. That morning we chatted to 20 other business owners who were looking to make connections with other businesses. As digital marketing specialists, we are in a sector where people will want to talk to us about their website or aspects of digital marketing that they may have questions about.
Investing your time in building and developing long-term relationships won’t necessarily translate into immediate profits, but it is the start of building strong businesses in the medium to long term and provide other additional benefits.
Here are nine reasons how networking can be beneficial for your business:
1. Fine-tuning your elevator pitch
Getting out there and introducing yourself regularly soon teaches you the best way to get your message across. At first it can be hard (maybe even nerve-wracking), but practice and familiarity soon makes it feel like second nature. If you’re just starting out, it is worth spending time writing out a couple of paragraphs about your business and repeating it in different ways, to different people. This will help you sound natural and confident when it comes to speaking for real in front of a new group of networking potentials.
2. Fostering word-of-mouth recommendations
This is the crux of why people network. The more people you are able to pass your business message onto, the more recommendations you will get. Successful businesses are built on referrals.
3. Finding Suppliers
As a business owner you will need a wealth of suppliers to run the various aspects of your business: from accountants, IT support, insurance brokers etc. At networking events you will come across these types of professionals, and many others. Finding suppliers that network often provides opportunities for two-way business. And even if you don’t directly get business from them, you don’t know who they know...
4. Finding a connection to someone you’re trying to get an introduction with
Six degrees of separation - anything is possible. Everyone wants to meet someone. As a general rule, there are never more than six people between you and the person you want to talk to. Networking is a way to access otherwise inaccessible people.
5. Learning from other peoples experiences
Networking groups are full of people with lots of business experiences who are often very willing to share their knowledge. Successful business people are usually generous with offering advice to people that are eager to learn and open to listening. So don't be shy, ask that question that's been bothering you and get an answer that's based on real life experience.
6. Welcoming new opportunities
Networking events will often have presentations. These specialists will offer you their expertise and help you perhaps think differently. Maybe you will find new ideas to reach potential clients or realise that there are different target markets that were not on your radar. People you meet at networking events may identify new market opportunities you hadn't thought of before and open the door to new partnerships being forged.
7. Inspiration from other sectors
Talking to others and asking questions about how they run their business – even if it’s a different business to yours – may inspire you to adapt those ideas, processes and innovations into your own business.
8. Sharing experiences
Business owners share a common energy and drive to want to succeed. Business people, who have the same challenges as you do, are often willing to share their experiences and offer solutions – this is when two heads are better than one.
9. Making new friends
Although your primary focus is building business contacts, networking can also create new friendships. When you share your ideas and your enthusiasm for your business with like-minded people, they are going to connect with you. Strong friendships combined with strong business connections can be a powerful way to build your overall network.
What networking events are out there?
As a digital marketing company based in Havering, Essex, here are some regular networking events that we have come across:
Networking can deliver more return on investment than any other tool in business. Those who believe in networking agree that in both financial and non-financial terms their network has delivered a lot of value.
Getting results from networking can take a while. People who buy from people, will usually invest time before committing, so networking is not a quick-fix to finding new business. Time is needed to build trust and you need to show up regularly to ensure that you are recognised and remembered for what you do.
Every time you network, remind yourself of the following:
The last top tip of networking is to always exchange contact details before you part company. Don’t just give them yours, always ask for theirs so that you have the opportunity to follow up.
A good network is nothing more than an extended circle of friends. It’s a two-way street of helpful relationships. Good luck!