Ultimate Guide to Growing Your Business Through Networking
Why Growing Your Business Through Networking is Key
It dawned on me quite quickly that growing your business through networking was the only way to go. I’m now in the lucky position of not having to go out looking for clients as I get so many referrals coming to me. The turning point on this came when I had reached a significant number of people in my network.
When I launched my business, I probably spent about eighteen months doing serious networking. After that point, I had enough experience to know which groups and meetings suited me, and which ones were a complete waste of my time.
The basics boil down to the more people you know and keep in contact with regularly, the more business will tend to get referred onto you.
However, you need to think about networking strategically. Where you are going to network and how much time and resources will you be devoting to it? When I started networking, it was in person. You may, however, be networking online. The strategy will still be the same, however.
Getting Started Growing Your Business Through Networking
1. Think about your favourite clients
Where would they network and how would they do it? Look at your target market and see if you know anyone – clients, friends or acquaintances – that fit into that category. Then ask them for their feedback or ideas. What events do they attend. Conferences? Business associations? Pick their brains and even ask you to invite them along. T
2. What would they value?
Will they value listening to you give a talk about your speciality and showing your expertise at a conference or business lecture? Or, would building up personal trust and credibility in a much more informal way be more effective? Can you offer them something of value, whether that’s your time, an introduction, or even a sample?
3. What resources do you have?
Will you have anyone else working with you, so that you can spread networking between you, or is it all down to you? How much spare cash do you have to spend on networking? Work out how much you are prepared to spend and think about how to allocate it wisely.
When I started my old PR company, I used to go to a lot of very small business events that gave free entry. Inevitably, the people I’d meet were usually too small to afford PR. I decided to raise my game and paid to join groups where more established businesses tended to network. And, hey presto, I was now talking to clients who could afford PR.
Again, how much time do you have? Start-ups tend to have more time to attend events, but, as you get busier you’ll find it less easy to leave the office. It’s vital to continue to build this into your business plan, even if you are happy being a one-person band and only want a few clients who will pay the rent and the annual holiday to Italy.
4. What do you enjoy?
I am a big believer in doing what you enjoy. There’s no point forcing yourself to weekly breakfast meetings if you’re stressed out by the effort you make getting there. You just won’t show people your best side. You will get the best results in environments and events that you enjoy. Do try out a number of different events before you commit to paying any joining fees, but at the back of your mind think about whether this event is right for you long term.
5. Put together your strategy
Plan your networking. How many events will you attend a month? If you are growing your business through networking, this needs to be sustainable. How much time do you have allocated for follow ups (emails/coffees/phone calls)? Does that mean that you’ll be able to build up relationships with three people …or fifteen?
Growing your business through networking online
Many find online networking particularly valuable, especially when they are starting out. It’s cheap (often free), doesn’t involve transport and you can do it all from the comfort of your own home – even at two in the morning if the mood takes you. What’s more, you can be growing your business through networking with anyone, anywhere in the world.
Links back to your website from your profiles and postings that you make will also boost your status in the search engines and help more people find you!
LinkedIn has to be the top place for online networking today, but here are a few pointers for doing it right.
Don’t spend all your time online. This looks desperate and gives the impression that you don’t have enough work to keep you occupied
Be subtle – it is not etiquette to push your business. The tradition is to receive by giving. So, offering advice to businesses, and joining in with a community is the best way to get known
Be persistent – one post a day or three days a week is better than a flurry of activity every now and again
Dos and Don’ts of Networking
What networking is not:
Shoulder padded execs working the room and thrusting business cards into the hands of anyone within reaching distance
*”Working the room”, “pressing the flesh”, “schmoozing” or any one of many less than attractive terms commonly used
Selling your services or products to people.
What networking is:
A chance to meet people and widen the circle of people that know you. They in turn, might know someone who needs you, maybe next week, maybe in three years’ time. This is why it is important to keep up with the contacts that you meet
A chance to spread the word about your business, letting your enthusiasm, help create the buzz and hopefully inspire enough people to talk about it too
The opportunity to bounce ideas off strangers and see how they respond
A chance to listen to other’s stories and be inspired (or warned!) by them. How did they do it?
A nice little exercise is to take some time out to sit down and write out five positive things that you would like to achieve through networking. These are apart from directly getting new clients. Remember, you are not just growing your business through networking, you are enriching your life.
Not all of us are natural networkers. A lot of us are shy, unhappy in crowds and would rather the earth swallow us up than have to give a one-minute speech on what we do. But the majority of us get over it, work through the barrier and move on to enjoy networking.
Successful networking means working within the limits that you are comfortable with initially. As you become more relaxed and adept, you’ll find that your limits just expand, naturally. No effort, no fuss and no squeezing yourself into a persona that you really are not.
The advantage of this is that the old saying, “people buy people” is very true, and if you’re trying to push yourself as something you clearly aren’t then people have an in-built radar which is going to sense that something is amiss, even if they don’t understand why. And, if they feel unsure about you, they certainly won’t want to buy from you.
Common Networking Issues
Here are some common issues about networking and how I suggest dealing with them. Remember, nothing is static. The more you network, interact and chat with other people, the more confident you will feel, and will move on from where you are now.
“I am shy and really do not enjoy networking”
Don’t push yourself into it. Just for now, concentrate on building up your online networking skills, posting on forums, joining and taking part in discussions relevant to your business, and connecting with people via email or LinkedIn. If you receive a regular newsletter and you enjoy it, write to the newsletter owner and tell them. If someone on a discussion sounds as if they have similar opinions and ideas as you, then send off an email just to say hello and introduce yourself.
And then, when you feel you have connected with someone…your challenge is to arrange a chat on the phone or Zoom. Even a face to face meeting if that’s possible. You could arrange this at a networking event and kill two birds with one stone.
“I can’t stand small talk”
You’re not alone. But people don’t think that the talk is small if they are talking about themselves. The trick is to forget the weather, the warmth of the wine or whether it’s a good turnout or not, and concentrate on the person you are talking with.
Ask them how their business is going, are there any of their clients in the room, where do they enjoy networking? Let them do the talking! They’ll love you for it!.
You might also find highly structured events like BNI, BRE and speed networking quite beneficial, as these have the advantage that everyone knows why there are there and getting on with business is the flavour of the occasion.
Tools for great networking
If you are investing your precious resources of time, energy and money into networking, then having the best tools possible to do the job will help make your networking more effective. Here’s our guide to what we consider the best networking kit.
Your one sentence pitch
Put yourself in your fellow networkers’ shoes. What do they want to hear? The answer is something that might help them.
Describe what you do, or your company does, in one easy-to-understand sentence that encapsulates it all in simple language. For instance, my own would be, “I coach people through redundancy “
Next, do the same thing but bring in the benefits to the customer. So, I might say “I coach people through redundancy, helping them get back into work as soon as possible, or even take a step back to consider doing something different. We then put together a strategy to help them get there.”
You’ll probably notice that the first speech was all about me, what I do. The second is about what the other person can gain. The vital thing is to concentrate on the benefits you can offer them.
Why not try your own now?
At some business events you may be called upon to give slightly longer explanation. Having your escalator speech handy and engraved on your mind is a clever networking move, and covers you for all those occasions where someone says “That sounds interesting, tell me more” and you hadn’t expected it.
Write your escalator speech, aiming for three, four or five short paragraphs. Concentrate once again on benefits not features.
For instance mine starts:
I coach people through redundancy, helping them get back into a great job as soon as possible. For those that want to take a step back, we look at mid-life career change. I help use what they already have, so they don’t have to start right from the bottom again. This could be a whole new direction, starting a business or going freelance,. However, what most of them want is something that has real meaning for them.”
Referring to a client that you recently helped is also a great thing to casually throw in as it gives you oodles of credibility. I often tell a success story that fits within the bounds of confidentiality.
You guessed it, write your escalator speech.
Once the last word in networking, business cards are now increasingly less used, especially if we are networking online. Nevertheless, you may still need them at times.
The essential rules of choosing a business card:
Make sure that you never run out of them
If you are going for a template card at least choose something that fits in with your business – your company colours and your image. Keep your target market in mind. You may like young, fresh and funky but if your target market is golf courses then it might not be a grand idea
Stay away from those companies that offer you free cards in exchange for their logo on the reverse
Be a little different and add something extra to your card. It could be your elevator speech, a special offer that the owner of the business card can receive, or printing out the link through to your free newsletter or perhaps even listing your services on the back. Make your card work for you in more than the most obvious of ways.
An open mind and a process
An open mind is your best tool – be receptive to new types of people, new conversations and new experiences.
I often find that, after a networking event, people get in touch with me just at the same time I’m composing an email to them. You can tell that these are the experienced networkers. A brief (no sales) email saying something along the lines of “it was lovely to meet you “and some reference to your conversation is great. This keeps the lines open for further contact. Of course, if you got on like a house on fire, or had a huddled discussion about a joint venture that has got you both lit up with excitement, then by all means forge ahead!
Thinking outside the box
People put a label on networking and think that it only takes place at designated events. In reality, networking goes on all the time. There are opportunities to network at the school gates, at a party or salsa lesson. Being aware of this can help you be ready for it. Networking should become a natural part of your life.
It’s not just a case of carrying a business card everywhere “just in case”. It’s an attitude. The next person you meet might be a potential customer, or that contact you’ve been dreaming about for months. And it’s inevitable this happens when you haven’t bothered to brush your hair because you were only going to dash out to pick up your son from a children’s party. Ten minutes after walking in you find out that the mother is the MD of a company that would be your dream client.
Every time you leave the house or office you are selling and representing your business.
Starting your own network
Doing it yourself is an intriguing option. But it’s not to be taken lightly. Once you organise something on an official basis you have responsibilities. Other people who expect you to organise meetings on their behalf. You have to remind people of events, chase them up to confirm numbers and all the other admin tasks that go along with it. But many companies who have done it and found it a great reservoir of potential clients.
Another alternative is to go through that list of contacts you are now gathering and offering to organise a one-off informal event. Making it small and intimate means you don’t have to worry about booking venues and can relax and enjoy meeting the people you have invited. A good number is around 10 people as it’s still intimate and yet big enough for attendees to think that they will be meeting some helpful people. The biggest plus is that you can invite who you like, picking and choosing people that you would like to get to know.
Even handpicking people from LinkedIn and setting up a SIG (special interest group) around a particular field can be a simple but effective way to start building your own networks. Keep it nice and easy: meet for lunch or dinner four times a year, and you’ll find you’ll get a lot more from it than just potential clients.
Many business people are now aware that they should be out there networking to some extent. People may well appreciate the initiative that you’ve taken. Be seen as a mover and shaker in your industry!
Growing Your Business Through Networking Fundamentals
It all comes down to a few key things:
- Decide on your customers or clients
- Find out where and how they network
- Get in on the action
- Be prepared to describe who you are and what you do in both long and short form
- Be interested in them and their lives
- Offer help and value to your new connections
- Have a process for follow up
- Stay in touch
Want to discuss growing your business through networking? Your own networking strategy is something we can address if you would like to be coached around starting your own business after redundancy. Book your first session here. Your coach will be Paula Gardner, serial entrepreneur, coach and psychologist, and the founder of The Redundancy Recovery Hub.