If you’ve been in business for as long as Aidan and myself have individually, you’ll remember the period when a lot of marketing was word-of-mouth through business networking backed up by some element of traditional advertising.
The basic tenet of marketing has not changed but needless to say technology has influenced how we can be smarter about our marketing activity. Attending events that provide an opportunity to network, however, is still an important element of growing your business and, we would argue, still the best thing since sliced bread.
This is indeed good news if you find it easy to build relationships through networking but unfortunately not everybody does. We’ll outline some tips throughout this post to help those with the fear and to refresh those who haven’t.
If business networking is not a problem for you, great, but I think we all know somebody who absolutely hates the thought of attending face-to-face meet-ups. As an alternative, these people might resort to building lots of connections online – Facebook page likes, Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections etc. and argue that they don’t need to attend offline gatherings.
Unfortunately, this will not help grow their business. The danger is that they might fall into the vanity figures trap. Usually, social media / technology is not the answer to creating meaningful connections unless the relationship is brought offline. In our experience, to rely on online connections is a lost business opportunity as it excludes engaging real people, face-to-face.
Furthermore, if the commonplace belief that people buy from people first, is true then attendance at exhibitions, conferences, expos, networking events etc. is extremely important. Does the thought of this touch a nerve with you and get the hairs on the back of your neck standing up? If so – read on.
People buy from people first which is why attendance at exhibitions, conferences, expos, networking events etc. is so importantClick to tweet
Develop habits that will conquer your business networking fears
In a previous blog, here, we proposed 11 good networking habits that will grow your relationships. We also suggested in other posts on networking that attitude and being prepared are the two main routes to getting over the fear about meeting people in business networking scenarios.
The personal hurdle to get over is to understand that you’re not attending to ‘sell yourself’ and not all attendees are going to welcome you with open arms. You should not take this as a personal rejection. It might be simply that both parties have nothing to offer each other.
Here’s my personal tip for business networking – just be yourself. People will always be attracted to authenticity, in others and in businesses.
If it is your first foray into the world of business networking, go to one on the recommendation of a friend or colleague. It might be one where everybody is allocated a table to mingle, or one akin to speed-dating i.e. a 30-second window to say something about your business. Whichever one you choose, do a bit of research before the event. Usually, there will be a list of attendees available by the organiser. Go through the list and see who you would like to meet for a chat.
Here are some habits you might want to develop when networking during events:
- Single out people standing on their own – usually, they are as nervous as you are
- If approaching two people look for the ‘V’ formation rather than the closed 1:1 set-up
- If it is a group of three or more people – avoid the closed ‘O’ formation and look for the open ‘U’ formation
- If you know somebody in the group – don’t steal them away, use them to introduce you to the others
- Be friendly, add value to the conversation when appropriate and do not lead with your business card
- Do not start conversations by talking about your work – keep asking questions
The thing is – for aeons now people have always been doing business on a face-to-face basis – we doubt that the glow of a warm computer screen is going to change that.
What about business networking for start-ups?
SMEs, founders or entrepreneurs, being caught up in the day-to-day operations of a business, can sometimes take a while to realise that building relationships is essential to future growth. You might argue that you don’t have the time or, as outlined above, you just don’t like the thought of it. Unfortunately, everyone has to do some form of networking or will have to be very lucky to grow the business.
We have come across examples where, as a means of networking, start-ups offer to do a service for free. If you can afford to do so initially, you will build word-of-mouth for an area of expertise and might even be able to move on to a barter scenario. This would involve offering some of your expertise (say website building) in exchange for expertise you don’t have (say brand design). Another way would be to agree to promote each other online.
In any of the above roles, the one thing that you will find out for yourself, and if not you should be aware of it – is that you are always networking. Whether with family, friends, colleagues etc. you never know who might be looking for what your business offers.
It’s why I always carry business cards in my wallet, even on holidays (Don’t judge …….).
One caveat here, though, there is no point in making a positive connection if you don’t follow up on your first meeting. Deliver what you promised, or at least acknowledge that you enjoyed meeting.
The more you network the more you build connections
Well, to be honest, more networking may increase your chances of making more relevant connections but the time element required to do so must be factored in. If you haven’t got that time as an entrepreneur or business start-up there are a few other ways of business networking that we would suggest trying:
- Host your own business networking event – in your offices, in a local bar, a client’s premises etc.
- Get more active in the community – volunteer at a charity, help with a local event,
- Collaborate with other business owners / entrepreneurs on a project that requires your skills
- Introduce yourself to new business entrants in your locality
- Make sure you list your business in online directories
- Help local media with content creation in your area of expertise
- Build referral relationships with local influencers (not politicians)
Tips and Timesavers for Business Networking
The natural approach to increased networking is to attend more events and talk to everybody with a view to making new connections. Quite often we forget that we have a lot of existing connections / relationships already.
When is the last time you looked through your connections on LinkedIn, for instance? Did you connect with them recently? Probably not. The danger is that you’ll only touch base with them – when you need a favour / introduction.
The thing is you never know when you’ll need somebody’s help to make an introduction – so keep in touch.
Here are 10 tips / timesavers that might help you to become a better business networker / to polish up on your networking skills:
- Think of the bigger picture – networking is part of your business marketing activity
- Almost everybody attends an event to meet new people – make it easy for others
- Give something first without expecting anything in return
- Only offer your business card after a conversation – or wait until asked for one
- Be a bit more inventive than asking “what do you do?” Find a common topic first
- Listen carefully to determine what their need is
- If you can’t be of assistance, introduce them to somebody that can help them
- When you do get around to talking business, let them know your target audience
- Be able to describe your business in one sentence that explains a value to be gained
- If you promise to do something – let them know when you will follow it up and do it
There are a lot of tips in this article so feel free to record them as a reference. If you are to memorise just four things, though, we would suggest: a) be yourself – don’t attend an event with hidden motives, people will see through them, b) before you ask for something – give something, c) only ask for advice in their area of expertise and not for something they would normally charge for and d) avoid the usual pitfalls e.g. politics, religion or personal details.
Building a network can not only help to grow your business but also to improve it. Embrace the opportunity and have fun in the process.
“Thank you for reading our blog post today” – Aidan & Jim.
Would you like us to notify you, by email, when we publish new content? If so, just let us know by clicking here. Of course, we can always meet face-to-face, just leave your details here and we might grab a coffee, cheers. Jim – O’C&K