So, you are looking for new customers for your business and some clever person has suggested Networking! Perhaps you’d never heard of it (except when you’re talking about computers), maybe you’ve always thought it’s not for you or possibly you tried it once and it didn’t work out.
Networking can be a great way to find new customers, but there are some important principles you need to make it work!
Will it work for my business?
In theory networking could work to generate new enquiries for any business, but, it works better for some than others. The fact is that any business could meet a strategic partner at networking who could refer lots of new clients to you, however networking (when it’s done right) takes up quite a lot of valuable time, so ideally you want to be able to meet prospective customers directly at every meeting, as well as strategic connections. So, businesses that networking is not generally a great strategy for, include those where the target audience is a very big business (decision makers of businesses like this do not tend to be at networking events) and businesses where their target audience is a very specific kind of person – unless of course you can find events where those people will be.
Which group should I attend?
This is a tricky one because there are lots of networking groups. Some are National, some International and others are just local. You should be able to get a list together of networking groups that meet near you (or where you target clients are) from search engines. Obviously, you will need to check dates and times to ensure their meetings work with your diary and also the cost, to ensure it meets with your budget. After that it is really a case of visiting the groups and seeing if you like them (don’t put yourself through weekly or monthly meetings with people you aren’t sure about) and of course if your ideal customers are there.
Some groups will meet weekly and some monthly. Some groups will have a professional lock-out and others won’t. Some groups will have an annual cost and others you can pay monthly. Some will tie you in and others will let you come or not as you wish. Find the structure that suits you and your business. However, as we will come to later, ensure that you have allowed enough time in your diary to commit to the group and not just the weekly or monthly meetings.
Many networking groups will have structured meetings where you will be at least expected to introduce yourself and your business. This is often as a one-minute speech. Ensure you are prepared for this and have thought carefully about what you will say and even written it down. If your group expects this, they will very likely provide training on creating a great ‘elevator pitch’. Even if you are attending more casual networking ensure you are prepared for the meetings as turning up unprepared looks very unprofessional.
For real life meetings
- Check the location (including parking) so you know how long it will take you to get there and arrive early if you are nervous, as it is better to be the first person in the room than walking into a room of people who are already all talking to each other
- Find out the dress code, so you can be appropriately attired
- TAKE BUSINESS CARDS!
- Take a notepad and pen in case there is an opportunity for note taking
- If there is an attendee list sent out before the meeting, take the time to look at it and even connect with key contacts beforehand
For virtual meetings
- Ensure you have the link for the meeting and have tested the software you will need (including your camera and microphone), so there are no technical difficulties
- Dress professionally (at least from the waist up), be in front of a professional background and try to find a quiet spot so you are not disturbed
- Type your contact details up and save them so you can copy and paste them if you are asked
- Have a notepad and pen or document open to take notes
- Look at the attendee list if one has been provided
- Close other programs and mute your phone to avoid distractions during the meeting
To make the most of networking it is not just what you do in the meetings that counts, even more important is what you do outside of them. Take time to have 1-2-1’s with your fellow members and even visitors to your group.
A 1-2-1 is usually an hour in person or over Zoom (or Teams) where you find out more about the other person and their business, and crucially, they find out more about you and your business. It is important to structure these meetings so you both get a chance to talk, and you should come away knowing who you could introduce the other person to or who their ideal clients are.
If you can make introductions and referrals then do so. It is important to actively think about how you can support other members and not just about what’s in it for you.
Even if you are not having a 1-2-1 with visitors try and connect with them – LinkedIn is ideal for this, as you never know what may come from the relationship.
Marketing for Networking Strategy
If networking is a key part of your marketing strategy, then you may think you really don’t have to do anything else. This really depends on whether you are also using other strategies, but as a minimum to support your networking you will need:
- Business Cards (worth investing in professional cards, for a good first impression)
- Website (your fellow members and anyone they recommend you to will be looking you up)
- Social Media (ensure your social media presence is professional and that you are putting out regular content – if you have connected with members and visitors they will see your content and be reminded of what you do)
- Pull Up Banner (if you get the chance to give a talk at your group a banner is a great investment)
So in conclusion our key points for making the most of networking as a marketing strategy are:
- Find the right group (or groups)
- Make the time to do it right
- Give before you expect to receive
- Get your other marketing materials sorted out
If you need help developing or implementing a networking strategy for your business get in touch for an initial chat.