From specific association networks to broad business groups, there are so many opportunities for business owners to network, but does networking actually work?
In my experience, the answer to that question is a resounding YES. But just turning up isn’t enough. And it isn’t just about getting new business either.
Building your professional networking contacts is not about attending a few events and flicking your business card around. It will take time before you start seeing measurable results consistently flowing into your business.
You can never have too many contacts
Networking isn’t just about acquiring new business; it is about surrounding yourself with a support network for your life in general. I have never met anyone who said they have too many contacts!
Running a business can be an isolating and stressful experience, but when networking you learn so much about different types of businesses, what is happening in the business community and have the opportunity to share your experiences.
A cost effective alternative
Networking can also be the most cost effective way of reaching hundreds of potential clients, which is particularly worthwhile for SMEs with tight marketing budgets.
While the cost of attending a lunch or event can add up, I see it as personal advertising. It takes your time but when you connect with people on a personal level it is so powerful. In fact, so powerful, we build it into all of our client’s PR strategies.
Instead of waiting for people to find you, you are taking control of the situation and finding them. For this reason networking is an essential element to business development.
Through networking you instantly have access to a room full of people who, by simply chatting with them, you can discover if they have a need for services like yours. The more people who are aware of a business means the more people who will make contact when the need arise.
Networking for business development
So who should you network with? Your peers, your industry or your potential clients? Obviously from a business development perspective, it is a good idea to network with potential clients. For example if your target market is small business, then participate in groups for small business owners such as your local chamber of commerce.
Join an industry specific network
It is also a good idea to belong to your industry specific network – such as one run by the professional association you may belong to – and also a non-industry specific network. Doing this means you can keep up to date with your industry and competitors’ knowledge, and a non-industry network will expose you to a good cross section of business people.
Like any marketing activity, networking needs to be consistent and long term. Many people make the mistake of not networking when everything is going well for them. When things go bad they are left with few contacts, many of which they never bothered to build a relationship with.
How to become a successful networker
The key to good networking is to go alone. Do not take someone with you for support as you will inevitably use the event as a catch up. If you invite a colleague to attend with you split up during any networking period and catch up after the event.
It’s not about selling. In fact it’s not about talking. It’s about listening. A savvy networker knows that networking and building relationships is about taking the time to find out about others, and from there working out if there is any synergy.
Good networkers also always follow up with those they meet. It’s not about getting as many business cards as possible, but connecting with people. Try setting a goal for each event to get two business cards with the invitation to contact them and arrange a coffee meeting to chat in more detail.
After each networking function I attend I add the people I have met to my LinkedIn connections so we can easily stay in touch with each other without having to email or call.
The big picture
Networking isn’t for people who want instant results. If you’re not willing to regularly attend events and build relationships, you will spend most of your time attending events in the hope that one day a potential client will be coincidently placed at your table.
– Catriona Pollard is director of CP Communications (www.cpcommunications.com.au)
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