It is said that networking is an activity that every business owner should be undertaking – no matter the business, its sector, its size or its performance. Is that right? Is networking the best way to use precious time?
What is networking?
Firstly, let’s just check that we know what networking really is.
- It can be an informal occasion where people meet and share business views and ideas.
- More commonly however, it is the formal gatherings that have networking as their primary purpose, for me, being a member of the Kent Business Tweet Ups is one such example.
- Networking groups can be held early in the morning, in the middle of the day, or in the evening.
- They can be free, or you just pay for your own refreshment, or where you pay a membership fee.
- They can be open (where everybody is welcome), or closed (where only one person from each industry or service is allowed).
- But whatever the type of event, the good news is that the same “best practices” work in all situations.
Networking has been growing in popularity over the past 15 years or so – and despite plateauing recently, it is not declining and is still a vital part of business and a useful marketing channel. So networking must do something that people like. We would not do it, if it were not successful. Interestingly, people seem to benefit beyond just getting business. I describe the benefits as hard and soft benefits.
- Hard benefits are getting business from the leads that others networkers provide you with. Ultimately it puts money in the till.
- The soft benefits I believe are just as important, but not always recognised. Here I would list camaraderie, fun, problem sharing and problem solving … for free – in fact, networking can be viewed by business owners, especially small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), as a great support structure. It also gets you out of the office and stops people going stir-crazy! Don’t underestimate the soft benefits, as networking can pull us away from the daily grind of “working in the business” and help us to be objective to “work on the business”.
So what are the “dos and don’ts” of good networking – the Best Practices?
Here is my personal list:
- Do not go networking if you only want to take business from others. If we all do this, no one will get anything! Takers get found out very quickly. Those networking functions where people aim to “give” before trying to “get”, work very well.
- Be clear about what you do – in a succinct, interesting and enthusiastic way. If you cannot describe what you do in those terms, others will perceive you as unclear and weak. If you attend a function that requires a one-minute introduction, then write it out and practice it. Ask for feedback on it too.
- Be interested before trying to be interesting! This wonderful phrase is a vital ingredient to making a connection with someone – it is the start of building a relationship.
- Listening is a real art – too many conversations are an interchange of people trying to get their own point across and not listening to what others are saying, and then building on the points they make. How do you feel, when someone ignores what you have said, and proceeds to make a point of their own? Good listening is a big complex yet vital skill!
- Don’t constantly dip in and out of various networking groups – groups often prefer a demonstration of commitment and loyalty. People trying to visit loads of groups just to get what they can, soon get rumbled!
- However, at the beginning do visit several groups as a guest to see which organisations feel right for you. In this situation, groups understand that you are a visiting guest.
- Successful networking is a process – it starts with remembering people’s names (believe me this can take a few weeks!), then remembering what they do, and then remembering what they want. Finally you reach the key stage – do I trust them? Every time you refer a contact to someone, you are putting your name and credibility on the line. Trust comes about once the relationship has some foundation.
- Business cards – make sure they are quality. Crap cards say you are a crap business! Make sure the words and design reflect you and your business – it is a form of marketing.
- It is often helpful to hand out a brochure to give people some background on your company.
- Remember others are doing business with you – not necessarily your company. So you are marketing yourself as well as your company.
- Follow up. Don’t let your having met someone new be the endpoint – feed the relationship. Phone, text or e-mail them soon after the meeting. I recommend arranging an hour together to explore “what can |I do for you and what might you do for me?” These one-to-one meetings can take the relationship a huge leap forward.
- Prepare. If everyone turns up to the meetings without having given a moment’s thought to who will be there and what might I be able to give them – the meeting’s success is limited.
- Enjoy it! You might feel nervous the first few times – rest assured every one does. The group also has a duty to make you feel welcome. Of course once you have become a regular member, it becomes your duty to make other new faces feel welcome. I feel that once you can communicate your message clearly, and you have struck up some relationships, then networking becomes purely successful and fun. And surely that is more than ok.
So, I wish you every success to those new to networking, for those who already network, may I encourage you to be even more effective.About the author:Gerard Jakimavicius is a professional business and personal Coach. He runs his company Life Coach Associates from Whitstable, supporting businesses across Kent. Life Coach Associates supports businesses in a variety of ways – helping directors and owners create business and marketing plans that actually work. It also helps managers lead their staff effectively and create a culture that is both happy and productive. Gerard has helped many company owners, directors and managers take themselves and their business to the next level. Coaching is a supportive and comfortable approach to help business owners stay objective, stay focused, stay in control and develop as true business leaders.Gerard can be contacted on 01227 278 6185 or email@example.com to arrange a free no obligation chat.www.life-coach-associates.com Twitter: @GJakimavicius