Networking is an important part of promoting your business - whether you’re a start-up or a more established business. Face-to-face communication can help you convey the benefits of your business and demonstrate your passion for what you do.
Word-of-mouth recommendation is extremely powerful and business contacts can play a key role in spreading the word about your products or services.
How to network effectively
While some people find networking easier than others, it's something that everyone can do with preparation and practice. In conversation, your goal is to build relationships based on trust, not do a sales pitch. You can build a good rapport with people when you know about their challenges and aspirations and they know yours; don’t just talk at people - ask plenty of questions and be prepared to answer questions yourself.
When you talk about your business, try to be succinct and interesting. Come prepared, with a compelling answer to the common question, “what do you do?”. When you talk about your business, highlight how you solve problems for your customers and explain what makes your business different from the rest.
The aim of networking is to create goodwill by being helpful, likeable and knowledgeable. You never know how useful a contact is going to be. The more people you win over, the more likely it is that your message will reach your target market. At the same time, it’s worth planning who you’d like to talk to in advance so that you don’t miss useful opportunities.
Networking nerves are incredibly common. At any networking event there will be others who are shy about introducing themselves. Asking “do you mind if I join you?” is a good way to start a conversation.
The advantages of networking
Networking works on many levels. You can meet suppliers, advisers, investors or customers. If you build a good relationship with complementary businesses, they could become ambassadors for your business, passing customers your way.
Networking is a good way to turn your ideas into reality. A strong business relationship can open up opportunities. Talking about ideas with other people can make things happen.
It's vital to keep in touch with your contacts. Arrange another meeting if you have an idea you want to develop further. You could send your new contact links to useful resources or invite them to relevant events. Another good approach is to introduce people you know that may be useful to each other.
Where to network
There are many local networking events aimed at specific sectors, from food to finance. Become an active participant in your sector or in the local community. Get involved with debates and discussions and attend relevant events.
Your local Chamber of Commerce will be able to recommend events where you'll be able to make new business contacts. BNI also offers local networking events that specifically encourage business referrals between members.
Networking on social media
Of course, social media is also a great tool for networking and it means you don’t have to leave your office to connect with people all over the world. Networking on social media and in person can go hand-in-hand. Contacts on social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn can develop into useful in-person business relationships. And it works both ways. When you meet someone at an event, you can then connect on social media to continue the dialogue and build the relationship further.
Online forums and groups are also a great way to connect with other business owners. The Donut Small Business Collective is a friendly and supportive Facebook group created by the team behind the Donut websites. Members are UK-based start-ups, small businesses and people with a business idea who want to learn from and share experience and knowledge with other business owners.
The golden rule is to be helpful and not to use online networking to overtly sell your services. Above all, networking is not about a quick sale - it's about building relationships in the long term.