Lessons I’ve Learned in 5 Years of Business Networking
When I started my small business in Edinburgh, I had just moved here and had next to no business contacts. So, before I knew it I was signed up for a networking workshop, wrote the first of many elevator pitches, grabbed my business cards and plunged in at the deep end.
Many years and networking events later, it has become my most important source of new business (closely followed by my website and blog). So if you want to make networking work for your small business, have a look at these lessons I’ve learned over the past 5 years:
1. Give It Time
Like all marketing, networking is a longterm game. Just think about it: How many times do you have to have heard about a company or met a certain person before you recognise them? How many times before you remember their name and what they actually do, even weeks later? Exactly, it takes time.
And it needs repetition. As a rule of thumb, people need to have met you several times and have ideally heard about you from other people as well (preferably good things), before they trust you enough to consider using your services or recommending you to someone they know. So make sure to attend networking events regularly to get results.
2. The Bigger Picture
I’ve seen this happen a thousand times. Some people go to a networking event with a specific idea of what kind of business or person they want to talk to – and everybody else is invisible to them: “Ah, our product is not for you, then.” or “I already have a marketer, sorry!”
Networking is not just about you and the person in front of you, it’s about your networks. They might not be likely to ever buy from you, but you never know who they know! They might have a friend who could use your help or know a freelancer with exactly the skill set you have been searching for for aeons. So be careful before you dismiss someone.
3. Build Your Network
Another thing I have learned over the time is that networking is not just to generate new business. It’s also a great opportunity to find new suppliers or business partners. If you have been looking for a new copywriter for a while, perhaps someone at your next networking event can recommend someone or is one themselves.
I have met most of the freelancers and businesses I work with closely on client projects at networking events, trade shows or conferences. And often enough, if I couldn’t help the person in front of me myself, I was at least able to refer them to someone who could.
4. Catch Up
“No, I don’t go there anymore, it’s always the same people.” While I understand that too many known faces at a networking event can be counterproductive, I think it is also important to be able to catch up with contacts you have made in the past (see number 1 in this list).
Ideally, you want a 50/50-mix of people you know and don’t know at a networking event. For one, it’s a good way to get started and perhaps get introduced to new contacts, but it’s also helping you build a relationship with someone you have met before.
Apart from meeting potential clients or customers, suppliers or service providers, networking events are also great to get support for you and your small business. Especially, if you are a sole trader or alone at the helm of your company, talking to like-minded business owners and people who are in a similar situation can give you great insights.
No matter if you’re looking for some feedback or want to hear how other business owners have solved a particular problem, never underestimate the power of peer-to-peer support through networking.
6. Listen & Learn
Some networking groups invite speakers to talk about a business-related topic. While that might look like it’s just taking time away from your networking – especially, if the speaker is not overly talented or the topic isn’t particularly interesting (or both) – a lot of the talks are actually quite good.
See if you can find out in advance who is speaking and pick your networking appearances accordingly and you might not just make new contacts but also learn something new.
While networking is purely business-related, that’s not all there is. That’s why a lot of networking event organisers and membership organisations throw in a purely social event every now and then: From time to time it’s good to simply relax and let business be business.
I can certainly say to have made quite a few friends at networking events over the years. People I ended up sharing an office with or who are now my first port of call if I need a buddy for the pub quiz. As busy as work keeps us, let’s not forget to kick back from time and time and have fun.
Over to you: How could you make the most of networking for your small business?
sandstonecastles is an Edinburgh-based marketing consultancy, specialising in helping small, local businesses make the best of their size and their marketing. Follow Denise on Twitter, Facebook or connect with her on LinkedIn.