How to Network Efficiently and Effectively
While it may seem laborious, networking can be incredibly useful for a small business when streamlined correctly. Here's how to go about it
Mention the word ‘networking’ to many business owners and it is an immediate turnoff. But effective networking is essential for growing your business. It is one of the quickest and most powerful tools you can use to generate new sales leads and learn more about target markets. Here we give you the low down on grasping the networking basics and doing it like a pro.
Why is networking important?
We’ve all heard the saying: ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. Research shows that networking works. About four in five of those who have networked have reported benefits, from making useful contacts and receiving relevant advice to increasing sales. In fact, it can be one of the most cost-effective routes to market, opening the door to influential contacts that otherwise you might not have met.
How to network
Choose your networking event carefully
Before you sign up for a networking event, ask yourself if it is a good fit for you and your business. There is no point in attending everything on the circuit. Instead think about what you will get out of a particular event. Perhaps there will be people there who are your ideal clients, know your ideal clients or already do business with them.
Speak to the event organiser and try to find out who’s going to be there in advance. Reach out ahead of time and see if you can pencil in an initial chat with a couple of new contacts. You could use Twitter or LinkedIn to eliminate the awkwardness of starting from ground zero when you get there.
Set networking goals
Have a few objectives in mind at the start of the event. Perhaps it is meeting a minimum number of people in your industry or making contact with a specific key person. Remember that you’ll probably be asked about your business, so have a good answer ready. Prepare a short, memorable summary or ‘elevator pitch’ that gets across what you do and for who.
Listen carefully and build rapport
Networking is not all about working a room in predatory fashion, collecting as many business cards as possible. It is a two way street and the aim is to build a quick rapport and make connections. It’s about asking the right questions, listening carefully and being genuinely interested in what you’re being told.
A selfish ‘me, me, me’ attitude will get you nowhere fast. Move away from the mindset of what you can get out of the conversation. Building relationships is about give and take. Perhaps there is a great website or business book you can recommend during the course of a conversation? Maybe you have a contact that would be useful for them to meet? Generosity can be a powerful business asset.
Know when to move on
Don’t get stuck talking to the same person, no matter how interesting they are. It is acceptable to leave the conversation by introducing them to someone else or simply by saying thank you, goodbye and moving on.
Follow up and keep promises
If you do come across a potential customer or someone you think you could work with, drop them a simple email a day or two after meeting up. If you’ve offered to do something, such as make an introduction or send a useful article, make sure you do it!
Networking does not come naturally to everyone. But following the above tips on how to network effectively should go a long way to helping you get the most out of networking events.
Sue Higgins is founder and managing director of Inspira UK.