Since starting my business 4 years ago, the majority of my work has come from networking. Either from meeting potential clients or from making connections with people who then refer me on to their contacts, when they need some business support or document creation. So networking is really important to my business.
I have met a huge variety of people running businesses that I never knew about when in my corporate life. I have worked with many businesses, in lots of different industries, seeing how they each function and helping them to grow.
Reasons why small business owners should network
Networking may feel daunting but there are reasons why it is good for your business and for you.
Though you might get the timing right and meet someone just as they need your services, it’s more likely you’ll be playing the long game. It could be months or years before a person you met networking becomes a client. It’s all about finding people who might want to work with you and keeping in their mind until they are ready. I recently started working with someone who I first met 2 years before. She was building her business and wasn’t yet ready, but we kept in touch and when she was ready I was first on her list.
Who are the people that work with your ideal client? For example, if you are a financial advisor, make friends with accountants, if you are a florist, seek out the wedding planners. Introducers are people that might be asked to refer a business for a product or service and if you are on their list you could benefit from this relationship.
You will need services for your company and so networking events can be good places to discover businesses that would be helpful to you. Through networking I found my insurance company, printer, accountant, IT support and website hosting company. It’s nice to meet the people that will be providing the service and often to get a more bespoke arrangement, rather than using a big faceless corporate company.
Find your tribe
You support group, or tribe, are people who share your values and will be there for when you need an ear to bend, advice or just someone to vent to. Other business owners will often understand better than friends or family. Meetings with your tribe can be mutually beneficial, a place where you can share knowledge, experiences, advice and support each other.
Make connections with people you can work with. Find companies that provide a similar, or complimentary, product/service to you. Then, when you are asked for something you don’t provide you can collaborate, outsource or just refer to a business you trust. You don’t have to turn work away and you may have an arrangement that means you still benefit from the job.
Get out of the house
If you are a singleton business, working from home alone can become rather lonely. Networking is a good way to get, benefiting your business and your health.
There are lots of different ways to network. For example you can get chatting to local shop owners, people in café’s or the pub (if you aren’t already on your 5th gin!) If you prefer a more 1-2-1 conversation, invite people out for a coffee, find out about them, their business and let them know about yours. Also, ask them who they would recommend you to talk with. Ask for an introduction.
If you want to meet lots of businesses at once, go to a networking group.
One size doesn’t fit all
Business networking groups come in varying sizes, a large group means you won’t get to talk to everyone each time so be prepared to keep going back. They also come at varying costs, from free, through pay as you go, to those with an annual membership fee. The investment can really be worth it but make sure it is the right group for you and visit before you commit.
For any event, it’s a good idea to speak with the organiser to find out more about the format and the people that are there, also to let them know about your business, ask them to introduce you to some good contacts. When you meet someone, don’t dismiss people because you don’t think they are your ideal client. You don’t know who they know! Go with the intention of meeting new people, not specifically clients. Don’t try the hard sell, it puts people off. Look for ways to help by making introductions to other people you know that will mutually benefit them.
When looking for a networking group, consider your main reason(s) for attending. Choose based on the people that will be there and the format that suits you. Look for a group with a similar business set-up and shared target market but without too much competition.
There’s a saying: ‘people buy people’. Therefore you should be yourself. You’ll find other like-minded people who will want to know more about you and your business. Let people get to know, like and trust you, then they will be more likely to buy from you or recommend you to others. Find out more about them than just their job. Hobbies, TV/film, plans for the weekend. Find something in common. Understand the person better and build real connections, my advice, avoid politics or getting too personal and coming across as nosey!
Some groups are very informal, the onus is on you to mingle and introduce yourself. Other groups are much more structured with a formal agenda and dedicated time to each give a 60-second pitch. Many groups will have a speaker so it’s a chance to learn something as well as networking. Speed networking can be a really good way to meet a lot of people without getting stuck talking with just one person. Remember to follow up and arrange to meet those you particularly liked or can see a useful connection with. Expos also can be a good place to network, not just a good place to pick up free pens! Talk to the other visitors as well as the stallholders who are trying to sell to you.
However formal or informal the group is, it’s important to have something to say.
5 Tips for a great pitch
Be prepared with your spiel or 60-second pitch, even in casual conversation have a couple of sentences to talk about what you do and make people want to know more.
- Try to learn your pitch, it will come across more naturally and you’ll be able to make eye connection easier if you’re not looking down at your script. If you fear you’ll forget something, have a few bullet points on a small card, just as a prompt. After a while, you’ll find you won’t need it.
- Rather than giving your job title, talk about the benefit you bring, the difference you make to your customers’ lives and what makes you different from the rest.
- Look confident, even if you don’t feel it. Tune in to your body language skills to ensure you are giving off the right message https://www.verywellmind.com/ten-ways-to-have-more-confident-body-language-3024855
- Be memorable. Try to have a phrase that will stick in people’s minds. “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” Oscar Wilde
- Don’t forget to tell them your name and business. A great pitch is wasted if they don’t know who you are or how to find you.
Swap business cards and ask if it’s OK to follow-up, then make sure you do. Email them, connect on LinkedIn, invite them to sign up to your newsletter and add them to your CRM so you can keep in touch.
Benefits of networking
The benefits of networking are meeting new people and finding out about local businesses as well as those from further afield. It’s an opportunity to meet interesting and inspiring people and make new friends. Some networking is hosted by charities which gives you the chance to get involved and give back, fulfilling your CSR (Corporate Social Responsibilities). Often there will be talks and topics which mean by attending you are developing while showcasing your knowledge in conversation.
building rapport, trust & confidence so that people will want to buy from you or recommend you to others. Get support & collaboration, as well as new clients. See people regularly to build relationships and keep meeting new people to form new connections
Communication is at the heart of business success
Here are links to some networking group websites that you might want to explore