Are your customers other businesses? If so, it is time to get comfortable with the idea – and reality – of business networking. Unless you’ve found a way of connecting entirely online, your business can only benefit from you getting to know other businesses in your sphere or area.
Networking can be important for service businesses where trust is important too. When you need to trust someone not to leave a mess behind, either in your business or your home, then personal relationships and recommendations are much more important than price.
Online recommendation systems only go so far, especially as more people become aware that those systems can be gamed and manipulated. They can also push price and quality down. Bear that in mind if you advertise through service platforms; have a price bottom line below which you won’t go. If you hold firm, they can be a good source of referrals.
But for the highest quality referrals real-life relationships are hard to beat. Make sure that networking is a solid part of your business promotion strategy.
Here are our top tips to help you to get networking and to get the most out of it:
How to find networks
Online resources for finding local business networking events include MeetUp, Eventbrite, Facebook, your local Chamber Of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses, or by running a simple search using Google. You can also check-out our list of local women’s business networks across the UK.
If you’re looking to network within your profession or sector, then start with the relevant Trade Associations. Many will have local or regional meetups and online groups.
Networking events include the standard ‘networking meetings’ and also training courses, conferences and exhibitions.
But don’t restrict yourself to formal networking opportunities. Some of the best referrals are likely to come from informal connections – people you meet through sports clubs, in the playground, friends and family, on holiday even. Spread the word about what you do, but never do a hard sell on those informal connections. The idea is to gently let people know what your business and skills are, so that they might think of you if an opportunity comes up in their business, or mention you to another contact who needs someone with your skills.
Be prepared and get networking
Do research in advance of any formal events. Be clear about your goals for the event. Are you looking for new partners? Investors? Referral opportunities? When you have an idea of what your objectives are, you can more easily achieve them.
Try to find a delegate list online, or ask the organisers if they can share one, then check out who else is likely to be there. Highlight the people that you would most like to talk to. Expect them to also look you up – so make sure that your online profiles and website are in order and up to date.
Look at photographs of previous events – or ask the organisers – to get a feel for any unspoken dress codes. Be yourself of course always, but if it’s a suited and booted event you might feel a bit awkward if you turn up in jeans.
Arrive early and introduce yourself to the organisers. If they haven’t shared a delegate list, take a photograph of delegate name badges and do some quick research. You can ask the organisers to make some introductions to help you break the ice.
Make sure that you have business cards, ideally they should stand out. That could include having your photo on the card or using premium metallic foil business cards.
Other hooks you can add to your card include a QR code that when scanned connects to your LinkedIn profile or your business website. By adding these features to your business card, people can add you to their professional circles online as well.
Reinforce good connections with a quick email or a LinkedIn request after the event. If you can send some information to follow-up on a conversation, then even better still. Good networking is about being helpful and memorable, rather than making the hard sell. See our article here on how to get the balance right. You’re unlikely to meet immediate prospects at most events, but if you do, then of course you should follow up and suggest a meeting.
Great things – like new partnerships, referral business, or new friends and associates can come from networking.
We hope this article was helpful and wish you good luck!