Ten tips to make business networking work

by karen on February 15, 2016

If you haven’t already found out, effective business networking is something that takes considerable practice and effort. There is an ever-expanding choice of business networking groups and events out there to attend, so how can you maximise the chances of getting the best return for your efforts?

Since first attending a local business networking event around three years ago, I have attended a wide range of meetings, from breakfasts and coffee mornings, to lunches and evening gatherings.

At worst, I have witnessed rooms full of business people talking but not listening, trying to sell to each other, and pressurising members for referrals.  At best, I have experienced supportive, educational and collaborative environments, which encourage the development of business relationships, creating opportunities for referrals to arise naturally from building ‘know-like-trust’ type relationships. But it took a while for me to experience all these perspectives, and to decide which best suited my needs for my own business.

Having survived the crucial two year start-up challenge, I now participate in regular networking activities, attending some groups, contributing to others by taking on chairing/organisational/ administrative duties, and on occasion by delivering educational talks on a topical theme. My networking contacts are my new ‘office colleagues’ and are a supportive network I can rely on.

So what have I learnt? That there are no shortcuts to successful networking, but I can share these ten tips, based on my own experience and learning:

  1. Go networking with a specific objective in mind e.g. making contacts in town X, meeting a specific type of customer, seeking collaborative opportunities in your field of expertise. Getting more business should not be an overt objective.
  2. Visit different groups at different times of the day and days of the week to get a feel for each, before committing to any expensive memberships (NB: you may not always benefit in proportion to what you pay).
  3. Understand that whilst you can get lucky with one-off visits to networking groups, successful business networking is built on relationships and often your recency of contact.
  4. Don’t try to sell to people, but do focus on getting the message across about who your target group(s) are and how what you do benefits them.
  5. Focus on understanding other peoples’ businesses, what they do, what benefit they bring and to whom.  Learn about their business journey, their successes and their challenges. Pay it forward, by sharing advice/helpful information and sending people useful referrals.
  6. Remember that it’s not just about the people in the room; it’s who they know and are connected to in their own circles and beyond.
  7. Seek out other business people (in your sector or beyond) who are targeting similar customer groups to you, and look for opportunities to work together towards your common goals.
  8. Remember to connect with people you have met at networking events e.g. via LinkedIn/ Twitter/Facebook etc., but resist the urge to ask for ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ unless invited to do so
  9. Don’t spam people with your newsletter or email shots unless they have shown an interest in your business and have ideally agreed to receive information from you (and always give contacts an ‘unsubscribe’ option, just in case)
  10. Review your networking activities periodically and rationalise the groups/events you attend, based on how useful they are to you and the extent to which they are meeting your objectives. In doing this, bear in mind that it’s not just about new business/referrals, other benefits include educational learning, finding collaborative opportunities etc.

Above all, try to relax and be yourself – you are the face of your own business, so it’s important to come across as genuine and be true to yourself.

This guest blog was originally written for the Evo Girls website http://evogirls.co.uk/

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