What is business networking?

Networking forms part of your marketing and it’s important to have a strategy. Building a network of business contacts takes time. Networking is cheaper than advertising and done correctly is far more effective and productive in gaining business. Networking contacts will be useful to you for a number of reasons, not just business referrals. Consider the following points if you want to be successful networker.

What can networking do for your business?
  • It can provide you with information on business support available in your area.
  • You can reach people easily to inform them about your business.
  • It’s a low-cost way of promoting your business.
  • You can make contacts with people directly who may have products or services to enhance your business.
  • You can promote your business and yourself in a more direct way that an advert can.
  • You can gain knowledge through informative speakers.
How do I start networking?

You need a networking strategy!

  • Decide what type of networking will suit you e.g. referral, support, members only, occasional events, professional lock out policy, internet based
  • Find out what types of businesses already attend the event. Usually this can be found on their website or by phoning or emailing the meeting co-ordinator. Find out where your target market networks.
  • Decide on the time of days and the commitment you can give e.g. breakfast, lunchtime, evening, monthly or weekly
  • Decide on your budget.
  • Research what is available in your area. The internet is the ideal place to look and check out Find Networking Events and Eventbrite.
  • Remember most membership networking organisations will allow you to visit before deciding to join-so it’s important to try out different types to see what suits you and your business best
  • Make a list of goals you wish to achieve from networking.
Your first event

Once you have decided where and when you need to find out some facts before you attend and some key point to note are:

  • If it is a membership group find out the rules on professional lock out. Some groups will only allow one professional per group to join, Contact the organiser to check, don’t just turn up!
  • When you speak to the organiser check if you have to speak for one minute on your business? If so plan and prepare. This is roughly 100-150 hundred words and ensure you practise before you attend. You need to be clear and concise and explain what you do, what services you offer and the benefits.
  • Have good clear literature. Cheap business cards don’t give the right impression. Quality leaflets and business cards will give people the message you are serious about your business. Take plenty with you. Take a folder or small briefcase along to carry business cards or literature you collect on the day.
  • Wear something smart but comfortable.
  • If you are nervous about walking into a room full of strangers (and who wouldn’t be) try and think about a few subjects you can talk about easily. Remember to ask questions and listen. Avoid the hard sell approach it’s important to build conversations with people and then relationships will follow – you don’t need to push your services.
  • Don’t expect too much from a first event. People need time top get to know you, understand your business and build trust with you before they will refer business to you, and you will also want to do the same with others you meet.
  • Don’t go to networking events to sell your business- you are there to make connections which may lead to future referrals. If everyone was at a networking event to sell, then no one would be buying!!
After the event

It’s important to measure your return on your networking activity. This can be difficult to judge after one event. Relationship building is the key to successful networking, and this takes time. It is worth speaking to others in the group ask what they have achieved from it.

  • Take notes at the meeting and make a note of where and when you met the person on their card. Use these to create a database of contacts. Or use a CRM from the start, add the cards and bin them. There are a number of card scanning apps you can use.
  • Arrange a 1-2-1 with anyone you feel could have synergy with your business.
  • Don’t overlook people to meet or talk to who you may feel you would have nothing in common with, as this person might have other contacts that can help.
  • Don’t expect too much too soon, you will not always get referrals or leads straight away.
  • Aim for no more 2 or 3 one to one meetings a month, as you need to be also spending time on other aspects of building your business.
  • Regularly review your databases and networking activities. Keep track of the leads and where they come from if you do more than one form of networking.

Article authored by Debbie Gilbert, Business Networking Resident Expert at The Outsourcing Way