Business networking is one of many great ideas to help generate business leads, and recently we wrote an article which helped business owners like you discover more networking groups in Yorkshire to get your business out there.
Now, we're going to offer some advice, tips and tricks that we've collected along the way that will help novice and veteran networkers alike get the best from their business networking events and meet ups.
Ten tips for the best business networking around
Good networking is a skill, and much like any other skill, it takes time and practise to hone and perfect. However, there are some really useful tips and tricks that can help you get the best from any networking group and we’re going to take a look at the top ten right here.
Let’s go through each one and see how you can be a fantastic networker in no time flat.
1. preparation is key
Do you need to take anything with you to your networking meetings? It may sound obvious here, but it’s surprising how many people regularly forget even the most basic of networking essentials, and other bits and bobs that make for a successful meeting.
By getting yourself organised beforehand, you’ll be sure to have a much better experience in the end.
Here are some common things that are great to remember to take to every meeting:
- A healthy stack of business cards to pass out to your new contacts
- Any business literature you might have available to hand out; flyers, brochures, info packs, etc.
- Promotional material and equipment - roller banners, for example
- A notebook to record any interesting / useful details
- Pens / pencils
- Money - both for parking and the meeting itself if it’s a paid event
- Electronics you may need - a projector or laptop for example
- A smile - the most important thing of all!
Preparation isn’t limited to banners and stationery though: have a think about how you’re going to introduce your business and how you can make it about your customers, not just what you do.
Keep in mind any goals you have too. Do you want to speak to anyone in particular, or a specific set of businesses, e.g. mortgage advisers?
By thinking about what you’d like to get out of each meeting in advance, you’ll have a much clearer vision going in and it’ll help you get the best out of each and every event.
2. Be realistic with your goals
Networking’s a big step for some, especially those new to it, or just plain new to business altogether. However, try to remember why you wanted to step into networking in the first place and keep in mind your goals. This will help you stay focussed and on track during every meeting.
If you don’t have any particular goals then it will help you get the best from your efforts to set some beforehand. They don’t have to be super-specific right now and you don’t need a list as long as your arm, but try to have at least a couple to hand to keep you on track.
Some unrealistic goals to avoid might include:
- Meet everyone in the room
- Make 30 new contacts
- Win £10,000 of new business
- Sell 100 products
Some good goals to focus on, however, might include:
- Make 3-4 new contacts
- Secure a business meeting or two in the next week
- Identify some good people to follow up with later
- Generate some interest in a new promotion
By keeping your goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Repeatable, and Timely), you’ll be more likely to hit them and build upon them in the future.
3. Get a rapport going
There is an old business adage that says:
“people do business with people they know, like, and trust”
It still holds true in business today and one of the beautiful parts of networking is that you can grow your profile, and build up a level of respect and trust with the group in a non-pressured way, over time.
But it’s not without effort. After all, if you stay in the corner for the entire meeting then no-one can get to know, like, and eventually trust you.
Sure, it comes more naturally to some than others, but you don’t have to have bags of charm and charisma to do well. Just be yourself, start chatting to other members in the group and find something in common to talk about - remember it’s not all business, they’re real people just like you!
4. Listen more than you speak
Sounds simple doesn’t it? There are very few ‘tricks’ to networking, but one that works really well is just to listen more than you talk.
People are usually more than happy to talk about themselves and what they do, so all you have to do is give them the opportunity. Ask them a few questions about their business and what they love doing and bask in the forthcoming information.
It’s not just about being a gracious conversationalist though, by allowing others to talk about themselves, you’ll be able to find out lots of useful information such as where they could do with help (either from you or one of your connections - i.e. making a good referral opportunity!), if there is any common overlap between your businesses to assist each other, and some other titbits that might help when talking to others.
5. Don't make snap decisions
Unfortunately we’re all a bit hard-wired to make snap decisions and quick judgements about others, so this one might seem easier said than done, but the fact remains that until you get to know more about someone in the group a little better, you have no idea about how you can help them, how they might be able to help you, or what sort of connections you both have that can be of mutual benefit.
Of course, some people just aren’t a good fit and that’s OK, but it’s still worth giving people the benefit of the doubt and making a new connection - you never know where it’ll lead!
By keeping an open mind and having a chat with as many people as possible, not just who you think looks like a good fit, you’ll be able to grow your business network, increase your referral opportunities (both ways) and open doors that you may have been otherwise unable to access.
6. Give more than you get
Everybody starts business somewhere and it takes time to build up a solid business network of good contacts and connections.
At some point though, you’ll have a great Rolodex of contacts to be able to share with other people you come into contact with and pass referrals to and fro to help out your contact network.
But referrals are precious things and can do you harm if you’re not selective about who you refer to whom. By making sure you only pass your most valuable and best quality referrals to others, you’ll be sure that they do a great job, which, in turn, makes you look good.
A poor referral who ends up not doing good work, or is unreliable will reflect poorly on you and could hamper your future business relationships with the person asking for help.
7. Follow up with your connections - and quickly!
Promptness is just plain good business sense all round. After all, no one likes to be kept waiting, and in this world of instant, online gratification, any delays to quotes, contracts, and meetings can have a negative effect on your business relationships.
Following up quickly with anyone you meet at networking ensures your meeting / conversation is still fresh in their mind and they’re more likely to respond to it promptly too.
The other bonus to following up quickly with any networking business is that you’ll earn extra trust, respect, and credibility points.
People will be sure to spread this around when they’re talking to others and so you’ll be able to build a reputation as a reliable, prompt and efficient person to do business with.
If you can’t respond or follow up quickly then giving people a definitive time or date is much better than a vague time-scale, such as ‘next week’ or ‘in a few days’.
8. You're at your best when you're you
It’s scary when you start networking; there’s a room full of people, a lot of whom are in suits, some of whom will be very experienced at both networking and business in general. Because of this, it’s easy to put extra pressure on yourself to come across in a certain way, or act according to some preconceived expectations.
The reality, however, is that any networking group worth its salt will be made up of a wide mix different people from very different backgrounds and with a range of personality types.
There is no right and wrong way to be, but it’s always better to be open and honest and as you are normally. People will always gravitate to the real you and again, as with previous points, the more people can relate to you, the more likely you are to build up a great level of trust, respect, and expertise in the eyes of the group.
9. Present a consistent image
There’s nothing wrong with surprising people and changing things up now and again, but if you’re inconsistent with what you offer, how you do business, and what that business is, then people will find it hard to associate with you in the long term because of the confusion.
If you’re an owner of different businesses, you could be better off representing just one business at a particular group and either representing your other businesses at different groups, or bringing a business partner or other member of staff along to talk about a different business at the same group.
Your core message is important too: if you keep changing what it is you appear to do in your 30 second pitches and other presentations, then people won’t know how best to make use of your products and services and refer you to others.
10. Remember to pass the thanks around
Perhaps another obvious point, but one that’s easily forgotten about. By making a special effort to thank others for their time, their business, or a referral, you will leave a lasting impression as a person who is gracious and grateful.
One of the most memorable ‘thank you’ moments I received was a handwritten card from a networking one to one, simply thanking me for a lovely meeting. It sticks in my mind to this day because is was very thoughtful and took some effort to personally write a card and post it out.
But it doesn’t have to be a great effort or giant present, even a simple thank you in person, or a phone call can make all the difference to someone and help you and your business stick in their mind.
Networking is all about learning and growing
Networking is a long game and to get the best from it, you truly have to be consistent and work on your skills, whether that's making introductions, public speaking, or really selling your business services and products to make them shine.
I'd like to extend a thank you to Heidi Green from Business Support York & North Yorkshire for sharing her top tips at a recent networking event. That's how this article came to be. Very valuable insights from a local networking regular gained from a wealth of experience across different groups in different areas.