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Networking. It’s more than just talking to people!

headshot2013I was talking to a colleague the other day about the benefits of networking to build your contacts and grow your business.  She was concerned about how she could choose the right one for her particular needs and it got me thinking about how I have used and possibly abused networking groups over the years.

There are so many groups in every area so it’s hard to know where to start.  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 at differing costs and at a variety of different venues.

Networking at the Menzies Hotel Swindon

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.

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.

So try the following:

  • 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. and make sure its in larger enough print for people to read it without having to peer at you.
  • 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 don’t 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 I know 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.  Even a group which charges £10 a week means an outlay…assuming you get to 50 of them is £520.   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.

How well does networking work for your business?

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