When it comes to networking, there’s still no substitute for face to face meetings. Sarah Weller reveals how attending networking events has helped her make valuable new contacts and she offers some good advice on how to get the most out of networking opportunities
I have become what I would call a serial networker. In any given month I may go to a few networking breakfasts, a number of evening events, a business exhibition or two and even training sessions where possible.
I never realised quite how many networking groups there were in Bristol until I really got into it. There are so many ways you can meet up with other small businesses, from business breakfasts to bank events. There is something on offer for everyone if you know where to look.
LinkedIn is a great way to connect with groups and find out about meet-ups. I also ask people when I am out and about where they do networking and often find out about new places that way.
Quite simply if people do not know who you are and what you can do they are never going to call you. Yes you can advertise but that does not give you the chance to find out about your customers, build long-term relationships and have a good chat.
The idea is that you see these people often enough that you build a relationship so you are not just selling your business to the people you meet but to all their clients too. I also enjoy it! Granted I do not always get in the car for a 6.45am breakfast with a smile on my face but I soon get into it after my morning tea. Sometimes it is easy to become quite isolated and very inward-looking as a small business. It is always good to get another opinion, find out what other people are up to and what is new, otherwise you could find you have been left behind.
Here are my tips to get the most out of networking:
- Get people to talk about themselves first so you know how to frame what you say about your business to suit them.
- Do not just tell people what you do, there are hundreds of people doing exactly the same thing, tell people why they should use you. And think about this in an innovative way. Do not use phrases like “the best/quickest/fastest/most efficient/most creative” you might as well say nothing… on the other hand, if you say something like “we have enabled our customers to increase awareness by 45 per cent and improve customer satisfaction ratings by 55 per cent” that’s worth listening to.
- Do not be scared to take examples of your work if it helps to explain it.
- If you are “speed networking” take a bottle of water….trust me on this one!
- Do not give up because you did not win business the first time you went. Networking is about building long-term relationships locally, it is not a quick fix.
- Always have business cards and lots of them — you would be amazed how many people turn up without them.
- Be memorable for the right reasons.
- Listen to others and show you are listening. If you play with your phone throughout their two minutes they will be less inclined to listen to you.
- Follow up with personalised emails where appropriate but do not spam.
- Tell people what you want. You are not just selling to the people in the room, but to all the people they know as well. Be specific and it might ring some bells. So don’t switch off because you cannot sell to the person you are talking to, they will have a network of contacts and clients who may be useful.
- Do not be scared if you happen to end up sitting next to a competitor. Talk about your differences, maybe there is business relationship to be developed through skills sharing? Use this as an opportunity to highlight to people why you are different.
- Use case studies and refer to real customers. Give context to your work. It makes it much more memorable.
- Try not to read off a sheet, have confidence in your business, no one knows it better than you.
- Do not just stick with the people you know. Obviously you want to build relationships so spend a bit of time seeing how they are and reminding them of your existence but then move on. Do not sit on a table where you know everyone, they have heard your two minutes already, go where you know no one, you have more to gain.
- The most important thing to remember if you are nervous about speaking is that everyone sat around the table wants you to do well, and they are just pleased that you are talking at that moment instead of them!
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