Networking, Networking, Networking
By Frank Webster
Business Networking is a really valuable way to expand your knowledge, learn from the success of others, tell others about your business and arguably above all else attain new clients.
As much as I have tried to embrace social media since its integration into day-to-day business life to gain new business, I will let you into a secret… good old fashioned face to face human contact is where I have gained and still procure virtually all of my ‘new business’ and ‘key contacts’. There’s no substitute for it.
For many there is an inbuilt fear factor (all very British) and a hesitation about walking into a room full of strangers and saying ‘hi…I’m Frank Webster (well you would possibly change the name!) ‘I am genuinely interested in doing business with you’. But I can tell you that it really does work.
I’m not a great fan of breakfast networking clubs (though I have tried them) and quiz nights but if they work for you then great – no, for me, its the organised business to business ‘summer drinks’ or ‘meet the team’ or plain simple ‘open house’ out-of-office-hours events. I can assure you I could have and perhaps should have been heading home to my family after a hard days work – but its all about making the effort.
So, I highly recommend networking as a way to gain new clients and to build a sustainable business. I’ve tried to hone down my ‘top tips’ from getting the best out of networking:
Generation of referrals for increased business
This is the most obvious benefit and the reason to participate in networking activities and to join networking groups.
The great news is that the referrals that you get through networking are normally high quality and most of the time are pre-qualified. You can then follow up on these leads and turn them into clients. I find you get much higher quality leads from networking than other forms of marketing.
A group of like-minded business owners offers an abundance of opportunities! There are always lots that come from networking. This is where the benefits of business networking are huge!
Joint ventures (one such example led to 28 new apartments to let, an opportunity to furnish them and considerable PR, aside from the obvious and long-term fee); client leads; partnerships; speaking opportunities;… the list goes on.
You do need to make sure you are focusing on the right opportunities and these should align with your business goals.
Some say ‘knowledge is power’! True, but I say “it’s not WHAT you know, but WHO you know”. This is so true in business. If you want a really successful business, then you need to have a great source of relevant connections in your network that you can call on when you need them. You can’t do it alone!
Networking provides you with a great source of connections, and really opens the door to talk to highly influential people that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to easily talk to or find.
It’s not just about who you are networking with directly either – that person will already have a network you can tap into as well. So ask the right questions to find out if the person you are networking with knows who you want to know.
It also gives you the opportunity to get advice from them on all sorts of things related to your business (or if you are getting on really well) even your personal life and obtaining that important work-life balance. You can tap into advice and expertise that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get hold of.
Raising your profile
Your aim is to become the face of your business – it’s about being visible and getting noticed for the right reasons. To do this you must regularly attend business and social events that will help to get your face known. You can then help to build your reputation as a knowledgeable and reliable. You are also more likely to get more leads and referrals as you will be the one that springs to mind.
A tip, often not given a second thought, but one that is worth considering, is that the people that you network with and keep in touch with do influence who you are and what you do; so it is important to be surrounding yourself with positive, uplifting people that help you to grow and thrive. Networking is great for this.
By ‘pushing yourself’ to talk to people you don’t know, you will get increased confidence the more you do this. As I said earlier, it will feel strange at first, you will feel nervous and you may well run out of things to talk about. But you will adopt your own style and have your own words and ways of starting the conversations (and indeed ending it if the person you are talking to is boring the pants off you!).
Networking is great for helping if you (or a member of your team) slightly lack that extra confidence – it really pushes that person to grow and learn how to make conversations. They will make lasting connections with people they don’t know – amazing!
I was certainly not confident when I started networking; in fact it completely petrified me! But as I do it more, the more confident I get and the easier it becomes, and the more benefit I get from it.
Lastly, and by no means least, many friendships form as a result of networking because you will mostly be like-minded in that you want to grow your businesses and naturally strong friendships tend to form. Some of my strongest friendships have been started from networking.
Business growth is very dependant on talking to people and making connections.
Oxford, where the majority of my working career has thus far been focused, is quite a closed community with its ‘Town & Gown’ divide (less so these days) and it has taken me years to build my connections, but now I look back and can realise the fruits of my labours.