To Network? Or not to Network? That is the question

Photo Credit: Joanne Tolner Photography

When I set up my business nearly 5 yrs ago I had just left the corporate world. I was trying it out on my own and not sure really where to start.  One of the best pieces of advice someone gave me was “to fill your diary with network events”.  Go out and start talking about your business – now it seems very logical.

As terrifiying as it was at first, I very soon came to realise I really enjoyed networking and meeting other inspirational business owners, who were all in a similar position to me – trying to run their own business.  Over the last 4 years I have come to see networking as a necessity for any small business, not only does it get you out there talking about your own business but it also helps you to develop a network or your ‘virtual team’ of people you can call on to help you as and when you need extra support. If like me you miss the team environment from work, then these guys are critical.  In some cases networking has also helped to shape my business proposition and how I talk about my business, being able to hear directly from your ideal client what it is they want help with, has been really insightful.

What local network groups are there?

We are lucky in the Thames Valley to have a wide selection of network events to choose from depending upon where you are in your business journey, personal preference and time you have available to devote to it, I list some of the options below:

  • Athena Network
  • BNI
  • Business Biscotti
  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Fabulous Women
  • Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)
  • Girl Tribe
  • Laptop Monday
  • Real Networking
  • The Business Girls Network

The advantages of the digital age today means that you can also support your networking online, in many cases sometimes when I meet someone in person I feel like I know them already if I have connected with them in a Facebook Group or reviewed their online profiles.  I don’t think that the online connections can replace the value in meeting someone on a face to face basis though.

Our top Networking tips

So with this in mind we encourage you to get out there and start shouting about your business, if you are nervous to do so or not seeing the return for investing your time, we wanted to share some of ours and some inspirational group leaders insights on how to get the most out of your network meetings:

  • Online profile. Ensure your online social media profiles and website are up to date and reflective of you, if you are happy with this then you will feel confident referring someone to discover more.
  • Define your objectives. Decide what you would like to achieve from attending a network event.  It could be to connect with a certain industry; build your social media network or build your team.
  • Business Cards. Ensure you have a business card or leaflet to give people so they can remember you and have your details easily to hand if they wish to contact you after the event.
  • Preparation is key. Prepare for the event, perhaps check out other attendees and arrive early.
  • Move around. Try to speak to as many people as possible, it is easy to stick with those that you already know, but be focused to meet as many people as possible, perhaps arrange to meet for a 1:1 at a separate time for those you wish to connect further with.
  • Follow up.  After the event to connect with people via Linked In, email or via other social media networks, so you are capturing their details for later.

I have been really fortunate to connect with some great network group leaders , I wanted to share with you their top tips – here is what they had to say:

“Networking is about building relationships with people before you need them. When the time comes for needing them, the know-like-trust relationship is already in place, ready and waiting for you to get in touch for business as well as personal/family reasons. From a purely business perspective, they are your bridge to their network and potentially your new clients. It is not easy to get new clients without first having a relationship.”

Lindsay Mc Loughlin: Athena Network, Maidenhead and Marlow

“Rule 1 – don’t go for the hard sell!  Even if you bump into someone who you recognise as your ideal client, they will not recognise you as their ideal supplier. They need to know like and trust you first. On that first meeting you can only expect to start taking them on that journey, not finish that journey.”

Mark Harris: Laptop Monday 

“Don’t try to ‘sell’ to the people in the group, you never know who they know that might be useful for you.  So, if you meet someone whom you think does not need your service or product, make sure you still show an intetest in what they do, they might be able to connect you further.  Decide on your ‘call of action’, what you are looking for, how can people in the group help you i.e. ‘today I am looking for contacts in HR’ etc, this way you make it easier for people to help you.”

Mette Theilmann: Real Networking

“My top tip is that networking is NOT about selling.  There are people who attend networking events to get their business cards into the hands of as many people as possible and with every conversation they are trying to do the hard sell with their product or service.  Usually we want to run from these type of people as fast as possible! Networking is about creating, developing and nurturing relationships.  It’s an opportunity to meet new people, establish a rapport and build a relationship. Take the time to get to know somebody.  Connect with them at a deeper level and see how a relationship with them can be of mutual benefit.   It’s never a one-way street.  A relationship built on the know, like and trust factor will ultimately end up with a sale.”

Amanda Ayres: The Business Girls Network

What would your advice be to someone just starting out with networking or nervous about attending?  Add your comments below and we can start the debate.

Finally enjoy!  It can most definitely be daunting to get out there and start to promote your business but your passion for what you do will shine through.

Good luck!

Sources:

https://www.fsb.org.uk/resources/networking-and-your-small-business

https://medium.com/swlh/9-benefits-of-networking-in-business-66b2445e6d84

Sophie Comas

A highly successful self-motivated and results driven, senior marketing professional. My passion lies within developing and delivering marketing solutions which make a difference to in today's complex digital market place. A marketeer with a strong academic background and broad ranging level of experience working with small/ medium sized businesses and in the travel and hospitality sector, across the Thames Valley, I love a challenge!

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