Networking, whether you like to do it or not, is one of the tools to the success of your business – and at all stages of your business growth too.
A networking meeting must be treated as a business meeting, it’s a valuable portion of your working time, so ensure that you have a notebook and pen to hand, you arrive on time in professional attire and give a great first and lasting impression.
Here’s my top networking ‘do’s and ‘don’ts:
Do… Work out which ones are right for you
All networking groups are different, so in the early days make sure to go to many. You will soon work out which ones suit your personality and business style.
Some networking groups are sociable, informal and relaxed, others are more formal and leads driven. Some are in between.
There is no sense in going to certain networking groups once deciding they’re not for you as ultimately you will not prioritise or enjoy them, and that will begin to show…and the regular attendees will stop taking you seriously.
Attending a networking meeting that you love really shows as you will naturally be pro-active, personable and enthusiastic in your approach to them.
Only try the ones that you can regularly attend
Returning is just as important as going as relationships take time to build and trust to be gained. If you’re a working Mum like me, perhaps networking meetings at 6.30am don’t work for you due to the school run and a lunch time meet would suit better. Don’t waste your time trying a 6.30am meeting if you could only go once in a blue moon.
Know and be confident in your ‘elevator pitch’!
Time is precious at these events, so know your business patter inside and out in advance of going. Trial it on others too – is it clear, concise and give a good insight into you and your business? Make it no more than 45 seconds long and don’t be afraid to have it written and to hand, especially when you’re introducing yourself to an audience rather than an individual as this will ensure that you feel confident giving it and don’t forget any of your key messages.
Have great promotional material
Whether it be a presentation, a business card or flyer, make sure it’s on brand and on point! You will only be asked for your business material if the attendee has a good first impression of you – so don’t let your business card etc. let you down! Ensure it’s professionally designed and printed and clearly shows what you do in business…you don’t want it to get lost in their pile of cards at the end of the networking meeting, it needs to stand out!
If you got on really well with an attendee and could see yourself benefitting from their service and vice versa, then strike whilst the iron’s hot and follow up. Suggest a one-to-one appointment and learn more about what they offer and how you could work together. Ultimately, networking meetings are about benefitting from them business-wise, they’re not just a social, so make sure you maximise your time spent whilst there.
Shove your business in their face!
There’s no bigger put-off than a business person who is relentless in selling themselves to you, so don’t do it yourself to others! Networking is a mutual opportunity, and as much as it’s about showcasing your business, it’s about listening to others showcase theirs too. In my experience, the very best relationships are built from a chance conversation or an overhead sentence, not a hard sell.
Sign up to membership straight away…
…and still on the ‘hard sell’, don’t feel obliged to sign up to a networking group’s membership after just one visit. If you think you like it and it will work well for your business, make sure to go at least three times before committing both your time and finance to the event.
Go to too many
Up to three networking groups is plenty. Remember that your time is valuable, and you need to select the ones that best suit you and your business rather than going to all on offer.
The use of jargon in front of an audience who have little understanding of your business sector makes their eyes glaze over. Keep to simplistic terms
…Don’t assume that you only need to network for the first year or so of your business to ‘get yourself out there’. Great and lasting working relationships are built over time, on trust and through reassurance. If you suddenly disappear off the face of the earth people will naturally assume that you’re no longer in business or too busy to take on any more and any potential leads will dry up.
Natalie Lovett is managing director of The Whitewed directory