With the rapid increase in the numbers of business events taking place across the UK, more and more people are realising the benefits that regular face to face networking can bring.
Whether you are planning to dip your toe into the networking world for the first time or perhaps you are already a regular event goer, here a few hints and tips on how to make the best of it.
Networking is a valuable way of developing a new or existing business and offers many other benefits such as providing a source of potential leads and referrals, acting as a useful support network or offering possibilities for collaboration with other businesses.
If you run your business from home there are of course the added social benefits of just getting out of the house and meeting new people!
When can I network?
Everyone has different circumstances and will prefer to network at different times of the day. Typically most events will take place at breakfast, lunchtime or early evening.
Aren’t they all about early morning presentations and pushy salesmen in suits?
If this is your perception of what networking is all about then you may be pleasantly surprised!
Structures will vary and some will be more formal than others. Some may involve giving a short pitch about your business, but equally if public speaking strikes the fear of death into you then there will be something more casual out there.
As well as ‘conventional’ networking events there are also many ‘alternative’ types of events, here are just a few that we have listed on the site recently:
- Networking Curry
- Speed Networking
- Golf and Networking
- Business Shows
How much will it cost me?
Pricing structures vary depending on the type of organisation running the group and the nature of the event. They generally fall into the several categories:
- Pay as you go
- Membership fee + charge per event
- Membership fee with events charges included
There’s so much choice, how do I choose the right group for me?
If you are tempted to dip your toe into the networking world then it is worth bearing in mind a few points.
- What do you want to achieve from your networking?
- Are you looking for new customers or collaboration partners or do you just want to build a support network for your business?
- What kind of return on investment are you looking for from your networking?
By knowing what you want to achieve you can more easily choose the events that suit your needs. It is vital to measure your return on investment from networking.
Most networking groups will allow you to attend the first event for free or at a reduced rate – try a few out before committing long term.
Preparing for an Event
So you’ve chosen an event to go to, to make the best of it you need do some planning and preparation beforehand:
- Check out the format of the event so you know what to expect
- Think about who you would like to meet at the event (if an attendee list is available)
- Make sure you know how to talk about your business in layman’s terms and the kind of customers you are looking for
- Ensure sure you have plenty of professional looking business cards. It is worth spending a bit of money on a good quality, well designed business card. A white background will enable your contacts to write notes about you on the card which is useful for following up after the event.
Some dos and don’ts at the event itself
- Don’t get too hung up about selling your business when attending an event. Relax and imagine you are having a conversation with friends. Find out about the people you are talking to, ask interesting questions. No one likes being overtly sold to.
- When talking about what you do, concentrate on the benefits. Why is your business different or better than the competition? Always speak with confidence and enthusiasm about your products or services.
- Don’t automatically hand out your business card to everyone you meet. Unwanted cards will likely end up in the bin.
- Don’t interrupt conversations, this can come across as very rude and is guaranteed to put peoples backs up. It is very important to be aware of body language, look for the signals.
- Avoid getting drunk! An obvious one really, but if your nerves get the better of you it is easy to have one too many.
After the Event
You’ve been to an event and met some great contacts but afterwards you fail to follow up with them. If you quickly disappear from people’s minds then potential opportunities may be lost.
Always drop new contacts a quick email after the meeting to say ‘hi’ and it was good to meet you. Make your emails personal rather than using a generic template. Connecting on LinkedIn is a great way to stay in touch with people and to let them know what you are up to.
One very important point, never add new contacts to your mailing list without their permission.
Remember that networking is about building relationships with people over the long term, not about making a quick sale following a first meeting. It takes time to get to know and trust people and you can only achieve this by regularly attending an event.
Whilst the businesses at events may not need or want your product or services, they may know someone who does. This could happen in a month or maybe a year down the line, so always treat others with respect.
And remember, networking should be fun, so get out there and enjoy it!
Today’s Micro Action
How could you use networking to boost your reputation?