One of the most valuable ways to promote your business is by word-of-mouth – and who better to sell your business than you?
Key to this is business networking – but talking to a room full of strangers can be daunting even for a seasoned socialite – here we run through the key reasons why networking can be useful for your business and our top tips for making it less scary and more successful!
Why is networking important?
Not only is it a really valuable way to expand your contacts, it also helps you to expand your knowledge, learn from others – both their successes and struggles – and of course is one of the best ways to speak to people and tell them about your business – and hopefully gain new clients!
What are the benefits of networking?
Perhaps the most obvious benefit and the reason most business owners decide to participate in networking activities or join networking groups is for increased business. When you meet someone through networking the referral that follows is usually high quality – you’ve already met the person so following up is easier and you’re more likely to deal with people who are genuinely interested in your business.
2. Opportune business
In a room full of networkers there will always be opportunities! And some may come from routes that are not always obvious. You may meet someone who can refer you to someone else – or who presents you with a partnership opportunity. Remember to be open-minded – you never know when a connection may prove useful – but be careful to pursue the right opportunities and not just jump on to everything that comes to you. You must also be prepared to follow up opportunities in a timely manner – don’t let a new connection drift away because you weren’t ready to follow up on an initial chat.
“It’s not WHAT you know, but WHO you know”.
In a local market, good connections can prove very useful. If you want to be successful in business you need to build and grow a strong reputation – with a reliable network and relevant source of connections that you can depend upon when you need them. Networking provides you with a great platform for making new connections and can often open a door to a an influential person that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to easily find or get in contact with. And remember – it’s not just the people that you speak to directly who are important – they too will have networks which may prove useful to your business! And it’s not just a one-way street – if someone in your own network matches a business you encounter at an event, don’t hesitate to share their details as it will only strengthen your relationship.
Learn from others
Having like-minded business owners to talk to gives you the opportunity to get advice from them on all sorts of things related to your business or even your personal life (afterall running your own business is personally stressful!). Networking is a great way to share ideas and tap into advice and expertise that you may otherwise not be able to get hold of. Learning from others is just as much about celebrating their success and is it about learning from their mistakes.
Raise your profile
Being visible and getting noticed is a big benefit of networking. There’s no point in going to a one off event and never following it up. Building a network takes time and effort – so make sure you regularly attend business and social events that will help to get your face known in your market. You can then help to build your reputation as a knowledgeable, reliable and supportive person by offering useful information or tips to people who need it. You are also more likely to get more leads and referrals as you will be the one that pops into their head when they need what you offer.
The people that you spend time with and talk to influence who you are and what you do, so it is important to surround yourself with positive, results driven people that help you to grow and thrive as a business owner. Networking is great for this, as business owners that are using networking are usually people that are really going for it, positive and uplifting.
By regularly networking, and pushing yourself to talk to people you don’t know, you will get better at it and increase your confidence. This is really important as a business owner, because growing your business and making connections is dependent upon being confident in yourself and having the ability to talk to people about it. As much as walking in to a room full of strangers is daunting, networking is great for people that aren’t confident, as it takes you out of your comfort zone and helps you to learn how to make conversations, identify good connections and make lasting relationships with people.
Give something back!
Being able to help other people is very satisfying and benefits not just you personally but also the market in which you operate – positive people create positive environments which breed successful businesses. Networking is a fantastic way to meet like-minded business people and offer your advice and support. You will always meet someone who has a similar problem or issue to you and being able to help them see a solution and move their business forward is rewarding!
Top tips for successful networking:
Be prepared: Make sure you have a pocket full of business cards that are easy to find and give out – but don’t be a card thruster! Swapping contact details with people who you want to stay connected with is useful – shoving your business card into someone’s hand as soon as they say hello is annoying! Be prepared before your event and research who might be there that you want to speak to, so that you can search them out or get someone else to introduce you.
Ask the right questions: Find out if the person you are talking with is someone that you can work with or who knows the people that you want to know! It’s also useful to be prepared before the event and find out a little about the connections that you might make, so that you can have informed conversations – building a good network is about knowing what topics to talk about, as well as knowing who to speak with. Small talk can be informative; make sure you’ve brought yourself up to date with relevant news and market goings on, so that you’re not guessing the conversation on the day!
Be friendly: You may be worried about speaking to strangers – but how do you know that the person next to you isn’t feeling exactly the same? Make eye contact, smile and initiate or welcome people to a conversation. You are there to meet new people and find out about how you could help each other in business, so don’t just chat to the people you already know. If you establish that the person you are speaking with isn’t right for you, then be polite, thank them for their time and say that you are moving on to speak to others.
Be honest: Small talk is okay but don’t give an opinion if you don’t know what you are talking about – you are networking to gain good advice from others and build trustworthy connections, so only share your experiences where it is relevant and true – you’re there to network and build business contacts not to gossip and talk about others!
Be selective: There are lots of networking events out there! The opportunities that you get involved in should align with your business goals and vision. Be selective about the events you attend and don’t just follow up every opportunity presented to you, otherwise you might find that you are spinning too many plates – attending events and chasing after opportunities and getting nowhere with your actual business!
If you’d like to practice your networking skills in a friendly environment, why not pop along to the next Huddle at The Hub on Thursday 28th September from 5pm-7pm in our HubLounge. It’s free to attend and drinks and canapes will be served!