How improving your networking skills can help your business
The term networking is one that can bring a feeling of dread into many of us. For most, it conjures up images of yourself standing in a room full of people you don’t know trying to work up the courage to go and introduce yourself. We imagine standing in a circle of people all using the dreaded ‘business-jargon’ that’s more about looking the part than actually being key to a useful and interesting conversation. If the thought of networking terrifies you, you are not alone. However, it does have its benefits. After all, why else would people do it?
Networking is a very effective and low-cost way to market your business. It is not about selling, but about building relationships that can develop business opportunities.
Here are our top tips for getting the most out of networking.
- Have clear goals in mind
It is important to recognise what you hope to get out of networking before you start attending events to ensure you go about this in the most effective manner. Perhaps you are looking for a new supplier of a particular product, or maybe you are looking to learn how other businesses in your local area are coping with the challenges your local economy is facing. By knowing what you want to get out of attending an event you will also be able to gauge how successful it has been.
- Find appropriate events
You may be surprised by how many networking events are going on in your local area. They do not have to be specific to your industry for them to be worthwhile – just getting out there and talking to other business owners can be very helpful in a number of ways. Many of them will be facing the same challenges you are and just by getting talking to someone you will be amazed what you can take away from the conversation. Find out if there is a local or regional business association in your area and join up. Also a simple online search can be very useful when looking for events. Websites like www.findnetworkingevents.com can be a great place to start.
In our industry, you may find that you have to travel a fair distance in order to attend the most relevant events. Both Naidex National and Trade Days are held at Birmingham’s NEC but both offer great opportunities to speak face-to-face with potential suppliers which you might otherwise not have.
- Plan for your event
Once you have decided to attend a particular event, it is crucial that you are prepared. If possible, ask the organisers for a list of attendees so you know exactly who will be there and who you would like to potentially meet. You can then do any relevant research into their company and look for ways you can perhaps help each other. When you do get the opportunity to speak to someone you want to be prepared with a concise explanation of what it is you do so have a 30-second pitch for your business ready that you can use when you introduce yourself to people. Practice it before hand with colleagues and family to make sure it is clear and interesting.
One of the most important skills you can have at a networking event is the ability to listen. People appreciate others taking an interest in what they do and they will be more receptive to conversation if they feel you are interested in what they have to say. Ask yourself what you can do for them, rather than always thinking about what others can do for you. Changing your perspective like this can be very rewarding. You get back what you put in. Remember, you are not here to sell people your products or services. Your purpose here is to make new contacts that you can learn from and potentially do business with later.
- Use your time wisely
Many people will find the thought of networking very uncomfortable and if you do happen to bump into someone you already know, relief can take over. However this is totally counter-productive to what you are trying to achieve by going to these events. Remember why you are there. Similarly if you do get talking to someone interesting, remember you do not want to spend the whole talking to only them and eliminating the possibility of making numerous contacts. When the conversation comes to a natural closing point, be polite, take there details and move on.
- Follow up new contacts
The most important part of networking is how you follow up. There’s no point in attending an event if you are not prepared to put in the work afterwards. Make phone calls, send emails, arrange one to one meetings. Remember to make notes on the night about who people are and what you spoke about. Coming home with a pile of business cards and no reference to differentiate people can be a recipe for disaster.
- Get online!
Social networks are a great way to keep in touch with business contacts and for making new ones, particularly LinkedIn, which is designed specifically for business networking online. LinkedIn has 300 million members in over 200 countries. After creating your own profile you will then be able to link with business contacts around the globe.