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Ask the Experts: Networking

Question: I?m really busy but I know I should start setting aside time for Networking. How can I make the most of Networking and make it work for me?

Getting your business noticed nowadays is easier than ever before…….We have the internet as our global shop window and networking for building trust and confidence in others’ reputation and integrity.

Networking is the activity or activities which enable you to build up contacts to help you, and enable you to help others, in both your personal and business life.

Everybody “networks” in some form but it is often unstructured and the “networker” is often unaware of the potential benefits of doing it properly. Often shyness or fears around speaking to strangers puts us off using this cost effective marketing strategy. To be useful it needs to be of mutual benefit to both parties.

Networking is connecting with people of like interests for the purpose of uncovering opportunities, increasing knowledge or sharing information. We can do online and in person. As with traditional methods of marketing we are encouraged to use more than one marketing method and the same can be said of networking. You can meet people and build relationships and then keep in touch online. Or you can meet people online and finding a mutual interest arrange to meet in person. Remember we network every day - with our family, our work colleagues and at social events.

Why network?

Over 70% of new business is gained through word of mouth and therefore networking should be an integral part of the marketing strategy of every company that is serious about doing business.

As well as identifying new business opportunities, networking allows you to share ideas, experience and good practice, meet inspirational role models, combat isolation by making new contacts, increase your confidence and self-esteem and build long term relationships. In the early stages of business it is easy to suddenly become isolated and lose touch with what is happening around you - therefore missing out on opportunities that could be vital to your business.

How do I start?

First of all you need to plan your networking approach. Join LinkedIn and build a profile so people with the same interests or who are looking for your expertise can find you easily. It’s great as a follow up after the first face to face meeting. If the group has a LinkedIn group ask to join it and get to know the members before you meet them. Join networking groups with a Facebook page then ‘like ‘it. This will allow you and keep up to date with their networking events even when you can’t visit in person.

Which networking groups should I choose?

There are so many groups in the Bath area it’s hard to know where to start. You can find links to all the local networking groups here. You need to find one or two which suit you. First question do you prefer go networking in the morning for breakfast or mid morning coffee? Are you a lunch timer or would you prefer evening nibbles? All are available in the Swindon area at differing costs and at a variety of different venues.

Whichever you decide on choose carefully and where it’s possible, get a list of visitors beforehand and choose on the list who you want to meet. If there is no prior warning then set yourself the goal of getting to know three people well enough to have an excuse to meet again or at the very least an agreement to keep in touch online or through your newsletter.

What do I need to prepare?

I am sure by now you have heard of having a prepared elevator speech. It is thus described by saying if you are stuck in a lift with a well known CEO what would you tell them about your business in the two minutes it takes to ride down to the ground floor. The problem with this is that everyone now starts off by saying “I help businesses like yours to benefit, benefit.....

The trouble is we’ve heard it all before and the benefits need to be so open as to be possible about any business. You know what I mean when you hear someone say “I help businesses save time and money”. All businesses offer that and you are none the wiser about their business offering.

So a better approach is to ask about their business and push them to tell you more. Encourage them to talk about the problems they face and the issues they deal with. If, and it’s a big if, they then ask you about your business you can consider whether what you do might help solve the problem or clarify the issue they face. It will make far better sense to your recipient. If your product and service cannot help them directly you could ask them if they know of specific businesses requiring your services, or if they can introduce you to someone you want to meet.

If you attend a networking event which allows you a three or five minute introduction time don’t give them a description of your product or service rather tell them a story about someone who benefited from working with you emphasising how they benefitted perhaps even quoting a testimonial from them.

Effective networking comes with practice and as long as you have done some preparation and learn to relax, you will find the rest comes naturally.

On the day

  • Arrive on time for the event – it is easier to introduce yourself to someone when you are one of the first to get there.
  • Wear your name badge on the right. It’s where your eye goes to when you shake hands.
  • Don’t stand around waiting for someone to speak to you. Ask the host to introduce you to people or otherwise walk boldly up to a small group and ask if you can join them. I have never heard of anyone ever saying No!
  • Treat everyone the same and never make assumptions about the people you meet.
  • If you are a bit nervous in groups not to attach yourself to the first person you meet. Remember the person you are talking to, may want to talk to others as well.
  • Offer information and contacts where relevant. It provides a reason for a follow-up call or email and staying in contact.
  • Never offer your business card without invitation. People will never refuse but will they use it or bin it?
  • As a memory aid it can often be useful to make notes about a person on the back of their business card.
  • Always follow up with people you have met if you have something useful to say, a recommendation, a referral or a request to keep in touch.

Make sure you record the cost of networking in your marketing budget. Some groups charge an event fee with no annual charge or an annual fee which covers all your events as well. One is free and you only pay for your coffee. Joining a group which charges £250 per annum and then £25 for 12 events is £550 a year. Belong to two groups and it’s a big chunk of your marketing spend before you calculate the cost of time networking and following up contacts. You need to test out the right groups for you and then dedicate yourself for a minimum of a year. It takes time to build trust and one off visits will never do that for you.

So it is simple but like any marketing it needs time and dedication.

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