So, What Is Your Networking Strategy?
So, What Is Your Networking Strategy?
Some time ago I had the privilege of being invited to a sales club run by Julie Futcher (The Sales Ace) who wanted me to talk about networking strategy to her members. It seemed clear about halfway through, that what I was sharing was quite a revelation to the assembled group as they appeared not to realise what it involved to make networking successful. So I thought it might be worth sharing with you!
Firstly, let me clarify that networking isn’t a place to go selling; no one is interested in a sales pitch about your business. Neither is it something that you should do if you don’t have a commitment to it. Just tipping up and hoping for the best isn’t going to serve you, you need some sort of plan or strategy.
If it isn’t selling, what is it then? Well, it is an opportunity to develop relationships with other like-minded people who attend. Raising your profile in the area of expertise that you have and, in so doing, attracting people towards you to learn more about what you do with a view of using your product or service or understanding how best to refer you.
As well as being an opportunity to generate business, it should also be noted that networking can be valuable in terms of social interaction – running your own business can be a lonely place to be; as well as educational – continuing to develop your own skills and knowledge around running a business. You’re never too old to learn, and if you are like me, you’re learning new things on a regular basis; particularly as things change quite quickly in this technological era.
So let me share with you some of the things you should consider to make the most of your networking activity:
As I touched on earlier, just arriving at a networking event without having prepared is not the best strategy for success. In particular, don’t wing your elevator pitch. It is your chance to present your business, usually within a limited time; so every second literally does count, and you really don’t want to mess this up. There is nothing wrong with writing down what you want to say so that you make sure the message you want to get across is received.
Have objectives you want to achieve from the events that you attend, after all, it is your investment of time and money. It could be to meet so many new people, set up some 1-to-1 meetings, share some advice, support someone, whatever it may be. A sense of accomplishment can go a long way to having you feel that the networking meetings are worthwhile for you.
Know Your Target Market
This is not the easiest thing to do, and in my experience is the biggest barrier to generating referrals for your business. If you can clearly define and let people know who you are ideally looking for, then it will be easier for them to identify someone as a potential customer. Whilst I appreciate that a number of business sectors can provide their offering to anyone; people don’t think of “anyone”.
For example, if you are an accountant then you can crunch the numbers for any small business, but if you say that to any potential referrer, the remit is too broad, and as a result, you are unlikely to get a lead. However, if you specialised in IT companies with five or more staff, turning over more than £100k and based in Northampton, that has already focused the choice and, believe it or not, you are more likely to get referrals. I have numerous examples across a variety of sectors that had been networking in a certain group, that as soon as they honed down who they were looking for significantly increased their opportunities from the same room of people. Try it!
“Pay It Forward” seems to be a theme at the moment. If you can adopt this philosophy when networking and you are able to provide help and support to the other people you network with, you will raise your profile, benefit the group as a whole and are likely to get the favour returned; either as help/support back to you or even business leads.
Be The Expert In What You Do
You have expertise and skills relevant to the business you are in. Share this expertise with the people you meet. This could be through your introductions, speaker slots, free “stuff” online or physical literature, etc. In so doing, you are raising your profile and creating yourself as the go-to person in your particular sector. You may think that giving away what you may see as your intellectual property is self-defeating in terms of generating business but it is the opposite. You will distinguish yourself from the competition, and you will be the first person that someone turns to when they need help in that field or know someone else who does. (Green Umbrella is a great example of this – just look at all the free advice and information that is available on this website for example!).
There are also activities that you should be doing outside of the meeting.
Identify those people that could be a great contribution to your business (and/or vice versa) and arrange 1-to-1 meetings outside of the networking meetings. This is a great way of deepening relationships and developing potential referral partners as you each get to know each other.
This might seem obvious, but again is something that I see time and time again not happening. If you have promised to do something for someone or you have been given a referral, please make sure you follow up and take the relevant action. With the latter, while the referral may not be ideal, just make contact and let the referrer know what the outcome is. Failure to do this will certainly have a negative impact on the referrals you get as people won’t bother to give you another. The reason for this is if they have referred you, part of that connection is their relationship and trustworthiness that is coming with the referral, and this is something not to be neglected.
If you adopt some of these practices, you can be confident that you will get the most out of your networking activity and generate more referrals for your business.
To listen to an audio version of this blog, click the player below:
Paul Green is the founder of The Business Community. He has been an independent business owner since 2003 and loves working with small businesses; in particular family-run businesses. His experience and knowledge of over 25 years and having worked with 100s of business owners, gives you the confidence in his ability to offer business advice, coaching and training. Having experienced the trials and tribulations that face a small business on that entrepreneurial journey, he is passionate about making sure businesses don’t make the same mistakes that he made en route! He is a big believer in collaboration and encourages businesses to work together to grow their businesses; as well as offering help and support to each other for mutual gain.