March_21_2013

Top 10 Tips for Business Networking

Business Networking. Some swear it’s their most effective channel, and some swear they’ll never do it again.

Like Marmite, there are seldom shades of grey. It’s like print advertising – effectiveness seems to differ greatly between businesses.

Why? There are usually a number of reasons. Usually the same ones for pretty much any marketing channel the businesses are using. The ones I stumble across most are:

  1. The business doesn’t understand the channel and so don’t understand how to make the best of the opportunities.
  2. The business thinks that simply “being there” is enough to get the phones ringing. They forget that people need a good reason to buy, regardless of the marketing channel used.
  3. The channel is not appropriate for the businesses product/ service. Think double glazing sales people knocking on the doors of people who have already got double glazing.
  4. The channel does not reach the right audience for the product service. You wouldn’t dream of selling double glazing to tenants, so why do it in your marketing?
  5. The business owner has forgotten people buy for emotional reasons, and don’t buy for logical reasons. And so fail to pitch appropriately.

Networking is no different.  If you are using networking as a tool in your marketing portfolio the same general marketing principles apply. That’s assuming you use networking for customer acquisition.

Not all do. Businesses attend networking events for a multitude of reasons, including support, training, to build contacts, to raise profiles … the list goes on and one. Regardless of which, the benefit of networking can only be measured by what you intend to get out of it.

An example. I had a conversation with a business owner fairly recently. The initial intent when he started networking was to raise his profile. A year later, he was a very popular chap. Success? Yes, for him.  He was asked if he had a good return on his time and financial investment – the answer “no”. His whole intent was to raise his profile, not acquire new business. He wanted kudos not customers.

Regardless of your intent, business networking is a great way to get out there, get known and ultimately get business. BUT there is a “but”. You need to follow the examples of those who have succeeded and continue to succeed in making this an effective and useful channel.

To make it work for you, consider these top tips the best networkers use:

Do:

  1. Get your 60 seconds right. Most networking meetings request you to pitch to everyone for 40-60 seconds. Do not list everything you do, just one thing and get the benefit across clearly. Like all good marketing – have a call to action.
  2. Give it time. People need to get to know you, like you and trust you before they will pass your name onto their contacts. In general it takes between 6 – 12 months to become established in a network and see the referrals coming in. Take your time and enjoy the process.
  3. Find the right network. There is no shortage of choice when it comes to networking groups. They are all slightly different and attract slightly different types of people, business sizes and types. Attend as many as you can as a visitor before deciding, and be wary of those with a one visit rule – your first visit will always be the best because you are new.
  4. Become the go to person. This means giving and taking in equal measure. In fact the most successful networkers are those who refer first (albeit carefully). If you become known as someone who is helpful to know, people will want to know you.  People buy from people, it makes sense to be someone people will want to buy from or refer business to.
  5. Follow up. Networking events are great places to meet new people. But they are not the best way to get to know people well. Think dating. For this you must book appointments (one-2-ones). It doesn’t have to be for long, a quick 30 mins is fine. Remember, the point is for the other person to get to know you and your business, not for you to sell. Selling comes later.

Whatever you do, Don’t:

  1. Assume your customer is in the room. They are probably not. If your aim is to convince someone to refer you on, you will do much better in attracting new customers. In all likelihood most of your business will come from referrals, not from converting people in the room.
  2. Hard sell. Ever. Please. It puts people off faster than you can say “no”. Anyone who has attended a networking event knows the type. The one who is spending 60 seconds exactly with each person there. You can see them – they are thrusting their business cards in everyone’s faces. In fact, don’t give your business card unless you are asked and don’t talk for longer than you have listened.
  3. Think we haven’t heard it before.  We have. Yes we have. Over and over. In fact we don’t care about what you do, only what you can do for us.  It makes sense for your focus to be on your (one) USP and making yourself likeable so you become the vendor of choice.
  4. Give up after one visit. Networking is like PR. It takes time, a lot of time. Repetition is your friend. The more people see you and hear you the more likely you are to get businesses. Same as most marketing efforts. More = better.
  5. Make assumptions. You never know who knows who. Often you see someone discard a potential contact because they cannot see the immediate benefit. Don’t forget the best contacts are the ones well hidden. That unassuming lady in the corner? Her husband is the CEO of the company you would like to speak to.

Most of all, remember networking should be fun. It should be a place where you can get support if you need it, a place where you can tap into the collective wisdom, and a place where you can use to find new customers, suppliers and those very useful business friends.


Written by Paullette Schwartz.

Paullette Schwartz MBA is the founder of Fabulous Women, a not-for-profit which aims to find practical ways to support business women (and men).  In

addition to running Fabulous Women Paullette is an active speaker and mentor for small businesses and a volunteer mentor for the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.

She had headed the explosive growth of Fabulous Women which launched the first group in March 2012. Since then Fabulous Women Networking groups have flourished with a portfolio of over 30 groups.

Fabulous Women welcomes men, and is one of the only female networking groups to do so.

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