BUSINESS NETWORKING

and how to get clients from it.

The owners of many small businesses are confronted with the idea of “business networking”. The problem is, that’s about the only statement which is consistent on the subject.

Here are some of the things I’ve heard about networking.

 

Getting value from networking events / meetings.

“greasy breakfast”, “not enough people there”, “too many people it’s scary”, “I’m an introvert”, “some businesses can never do well from networking meetings”, “I don’t bother and I do OK”, “I am no good at presenting”, “I don’t know where to start”

And yet these meetings can provide a very good source of ongoing business, as well as provide a great way to test your marketing/ learn about other businesses and just have some good social interaction.

If you’re going to go to networking meetings – know how to use them, and what to do afterwards. The meeting is only the beginning, to do well, it’s time to get more strategic. There are ideas on this page to help – click here or scroll down for more.

Managing your network, for profit

“takes too much time”, “doesn’t create not enough income”, “don’t like all the meeting and greeting”, “don’t like getting up early”, “I’m not a people person”, “I’m an introvert”, “I hate social media”, “my network doesn’t help me”, “i just hate networking”

Have you ever heard these “reasons” for not bothering with business networking? Want to know how to fix them, just click.

Networking is much more than meetings, you don’t have to even go to meetings, to benefit from networking!

There are ideas on this page to help – click here or scroll down for more.

What is business networking?

“breakfast meetings”, “using social media”, “managing my contacts”

Actually it’s all of the above, and none of the above. There are several articles on the site to help you understand how to get the most from having a networking strategy that joins together the various forms of your networking.

There are ideas on this page to help – click here or scroll down for more.

What is business networking?

Business networking is a method of creating a group of contacts that know you, like you and that can pass you business/ help you with other matters. There are three main ways people think about networking.

  1. Networking meetings – a good way of adding people to your network of contacts. But not the only way!
  2. Social networking – a good way of finding people for your network, keeping in touch with people in your network
  3. Other people you know – have you thought about past contacts, old work colleagues, clients, suppliers, etc? What are you doing to keep in touch with them? If somebody already knows how good you are, it’s a lot easier to get value than when you have to meet them for the first time.

Adding people to your network.

If you have a strong network that is delivering you the referrals you need, and there is no likelihood of that dropping, why bother adding more people to your network? There is a simple rule in most marketing, it takes more effort to develop a new contact than to get results from existing ones. So, consider what results you need from your networking, and compare that with the results you’re getting. If you don’t need new people in your network, don’t proactively add them!

If you do need more people, consider the people most likely to be good contacts (shared values, shared customer needs etc), and how you might meet them. Some business owners “meet” similarly minded business owners in online discussion forums and have a strategy to develop the relationship through social media until the time to pick up the phone. It works for many businesses.

For others it’s about going to networking meetings, with a clear view of what you want. Some business owners, spend time with their customers to find other network contacts. What way might work for you?

The main message is don’t waste time adding new people to your network, until you know who you want and have a strategy for developing the relationship to get results.

Managing your network, for profit

However you got your network of contacts there are three important things to be aware of.

  1. Not all of your contacts areas valuable as each other. Your strategic task is to segregate them into those most likely to be of value (you share customer needs, get on well, have complementary offers and similar values), and less likely to be of value (but you don’t know who they know, so never just assume they’re no use for you). Naming them A, B and C listers is one way of making that clear to your CRM system.
  2. You will get no value unless you keep in touch with them. The more important the contact (A listers?), the more resource and effort needs to be spent keeping in touch. You might have a strategy of only sending a quick email quarterly for your C listers, but making a phone call to your A listers at least once a month (where you might arrange to meet up).
  3. You need to make a request of them. Most business owners go wrong by assuming that their contacts know what they want, this not normally the case. If you want to get referrals (or whatever else) from your contacts, then you need to make that very clear. BUT, you can’t just ask for things (business, referrals, etc) until you get to know them properly (kissing on the first date never worked for me when I was younger) and are happy to help them too. Knowing the state of the relationship and improving it is important here. It could be that with some people you started out thinking they were really important, but they are not interested in developing the relationship to the point of meeting up/ passing referrals; that’s OK once you’ve tried. How do you make it clear, to your network, who your best clients are, what they say about you, etc?

Managing your network

However you got your network of contacts managing your network involves keeping in touch, developing the relationship, ensuring they know what you do and how they can help you, and that they get something from you.

If you’ve graded your contacts into A-listers, B-listers, C-listers (those most likely to generate great results, with shared customer needs, etc, down to those least likely), then it’s about thinking how you’ll keep in touch with each group (more effort on the ones more likely to generate results).

Reciprocity

You’re more likely to get something from somebody when you give something to them, or at least they know you’re looking for you. What are you doing to make it clear how you are trying to help them, and how much effort do you put into it?

How strong a relationship?

It’s a simple fact that some people you will get on with more than others. It’s also much more likely that you’ll get more from people you get on better with!

Measuring the strength of the relationship (‘barely know them’, to ‘very close friends who spend time with each others families’, or levels 1-5) is one way to help you focus on relationship quality. If you have some “A-listers” where the relationship quality is low it’s worth focusing on developing the relationship. If it doesn’t work, there’s no chemistry, etc, then drop them from being an A-lister.

Many business owners have lots of people in their network that should be able to get them clients and find it’s not happening. The most common solution is to focus on a handful of people (most likely to generate results) and work on strengthening the relationship with them.

The importance of focus

You only have as many hours as you are prepared to work for. Some of those need to go to getting paid by clients, some to admin and some to your marketing. Networking is simply a form of marketing, so determine how much time you’ll spend on it. Then focus your time on the important people and develop other relationships as you need them. There is no point in creating a massive high quality network with great relationship strength, if you don’t need the clients it can produce and don’t have the time to manage that size of network.

 

Getting value from networking meetings

Attending networking meetings is the most common way small business owners think about business networking. Networking meetings can be a great way to meet new people that you might want in your network (but see my earlier note about how many people you need in your network).

There are two main types of networking meetings:

  • Membership groups: You have to join to attend more than one or two meetings. The benefit of these meetings is that other members had to join as well, so they are more likely to take their networking seriously. There are two main types of membership groups, single sector or open. A single sector group only allows one person from any one profession to join, where in open groups you may find more than one person from your profession already in the group. Both have their advantages!
  • Open: These meetings are open to all, some being regular and some are more sporadic. They can be good places to meet a wider variety of business owners, as they often have more people in the room at once, and the is lower than membership groups.

Networking meeting skills to develop

To get the biggest benefit from networking meetings you may find the follow skills useful.

  1. Know why you’re there: Sounds obvious, but many people don’t! Are you simple trying to meet people you might sell to (not always effective in networking meetings), meet people you get on well with and you might be able to refer business to in the future (a better strategy), or find people you can add to your network of good contacts (then you can develop the business relationship later). Each of these requires a different approach to the meeting.
  2. Don’t jump into the sale: One of the most hated behaviours in networking meetings is when people force business cards/ leaflets into your hands and simply try to sell. Success from networking meetings is normally about developing a relationship for future sales or referrals. You won’t get that opportunity if people in the room think you are simply selling to them (specially if you’re not listening either).
  3. Think benefits, not features: If you’re explaining how you help your customers, talk about what your customers get, as opposed to what you do to/ give your customer. A long list of features (things you do/ give) is rarely interesting, or understood. A discussion around benefits (what your customers are left with/ the problem you solved) is more likely to be understood and remembered – that’s key to getting future referrals.
  4. Active listening: You’ll probably spend some time “open networking” (standing around chatting to others in the room). A good conversation allows you to get to know the other person (basis for starting a business relationship), understand what they do (how they help their customers, and who those customers are) and allows you to do the same for them. Active listening is a skill that helps you remember more from the conversations, and makes it obvious to the other person you are listening! Get into the habit of asking questions when you don’t understand, and summarising what they’ve said (proves you were listening).
  5. Good questions: If you are engaged in conversation with others there are two times when questions are especially powerful. When you want to check you’ve understood what they do, and when you want to understand what they need (e.g. if you can help them). Asking good questions allows the conversation and understanding to flow.
  6. Your one minute introduction. Many groups work round the room and ask each person to introduce themselves to the room in a minute (or other specified period). Keep it very clear, your name, how you help clients (not what you do), a benefit your clients find (especially good if combined with a testimonial).
  7. Your keep in touch strategy: Assuming you made some good contacts, you need to keep in touch with them. Don’t assume that they will get back to you, show professional pro-activity and do the follow up. Even better is when you agree what that follow up will be before you end the conversation.

And don’t forget any relevant marketing items – especially well designed business cards. These can help you get your message over, and be remembered.

After the meeting

After the meeting, and the follow up, you job is manage the new members of your network in the same way as the longer standing members of your network. Just going to meetings is a classic way of working hard to get very little. That’s why I left business networking meetings to the end of this page!

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Breakfast at a business networking group

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