So this is the first ‘REAL’ post then and hopefully the clue is the title….
I wanted to cover the one area of business I consider the lifeblood of any small company trying to build their business – Networking.
Networking is the process of getting out and meeting other business people at breakfasts, lunches dinners and other functions…..true networking in my opinion is an art form. The most important thing to remember about it (and where I feel that so many go wrong) is that it’s not a short term solution to getting business, it’s about building relationships over time. Being seen at the same events regularly will help build trust in you as a person (your personal brand) and the company you work for. In some cases I’ve only started getting leads from people that have known me for 3+ years, purely because it’s taken them that long to see that my business is one that it wishes to work with. You must work at networking….
There are loads of opportunities in life to network. In fact if you wanted to, you could network every day of the week…and then at the weekend too, in fact I’m regularly told that I never stop networking When in start-up phase you need to put yourself about (quite literally) – get out there as much as possible, invite yourself to everything you can and ask others where they network. DON’T BE SHY. If you want to find networking groups in your locality then Google it. If you’re in Exeter and reading this then here is a list of local networking groups for you to try: networking groups in exeter
Ok, so now you’ve found your groups lets go networking….
It can be a pretty scary prospect going to a networking group – a room full of people you don’t know can seem quite intimidating. Thoughts like ‘who do i speak to first’ and ‘how to do I interrupt them to start a conversation’ all spring into your mind. This is especially true when you’re starting up and don’t know anyone – these feelings are entirely natural and are probably being felt by many other people in the room. Don’t worry though, it gets easier….
To help in your quest I’ve put together Banksy’s top five tips for networking:
Tip 1 – Quite simply, get there early!!! It’s not hard when you think about it, if you get there early, the room isn’t full and it will be the other people that have to come in and worry about who to speak to and how.
Tip 2 - Have a plan before you go. If you can, try and get a list of who is going to be there. Make a target list of who you want to speak to and remember that you can always ask the organisers to introduce you to someone if you don’t know what they look like.
Tip 3 - You’re not there for the food and drink, you’re there to do business (hence the title of this post)…Don’t just sit there and eat your food and drink your drink in the corner…get out there and NETWORK. The quality of the lunch or breakfast should come a distant second to whether you can make some good contacts.
Tip 4 – Listen. This is probably one of my most important tips. No one likes a person who turns up and talks at them…me me me….it’s quite a turn off. Try asking the person you’re speaking to about themselves and their business and only talk about your business when they ask (they will get round to it…unless they are completely egocentric ). Try some of the following posers – and please, please, please sound like you’re interested:
>> So what business are you in?
>> How long have you been going?
>> Is business good at the moment?
When I’m networking and asking these questions I’m always thinking about my own business and how I can create an angle on what I do when I’m finally asked about it. Then, if clever, I can relate my own business to theirs and suddenly the selling process becomes much easier. (As an example: If I find that I’m talking to an estate agent and business is not great at the moment, when I get asked about Optix I can tell them that I look after other estate agents in other parts of the country and what has worked well to bring them new business through the web – immediately they are interested and you can move to the follow up…)
Tip 5 - Follow Up – If you go to an event with people where you collect business cards then make sure you follow up. Send a quick email saying how nice to meet them it was. If you’ve told anyone you’ll call them then make sure you do (and within a couple of days so it’s still fresh in their minds).
Networking can be one of the most powerful ways of bringing in new business. Optix went from 2 to 8 staff on the strength of networking alone. I made sure that I was at every event I could be in the early days, now I try and make sure all my staff are doing the same.
For some groups that I have personal experience of check out:
• BNI (worldwide) – My Local chapter in Exeter has its own website here: BNI Chapter in Exeter
• Business Network (South West)
• Chamber of Commerce (check your local area – Here is Exeter Chamber of Commerce) Optix also design and maintain Barking and Dagenham Chamber of Commerce Website
• TBX (Devon)
• Best Of (Exeter)
• XYBC – Exeter Young Business Club
Quick Update to Post: Check out All Networking in a couple of weeks time here – Over 750 people now registered: www.allnetworking.co.uk
So now that you are armed with my top tips, get out there – don’t be shy and network until you’re blue in the face – I KNOW it will work for you. Let me know how you get on…