Networking is a vital part of any successful business. Whether you choose to network formally through attending networking meetings, or whether you take the informal route, you still need to know what you are doing to do it well.
Formal networking groups are run by your local Chamber of Commerce, as well as various private organisations which may organise events for profit, for charity or just for networking’s sake! Details can be found advertised on social media as well as specific websites – a quick Google search for local business networking events will help direct you.
Informal networking takes place every time you meet or speak to a business associate, or perhaps even to anyone. The parent next to you in the school playground, or the person you chat to at the golf range, may end up being your next client or supplier. The conversation you have whilst waiting for a meeting to start, or in the coffee break at a conference counts as networking.
Consider the Who, When, Why and Where:
First impressions count, and whoever you nominate, will be representing not only themselves but your organisation. This doesn’t mean that it should only be business owners who are networking but it does mean that the decision is important. Factors to consider include:
Who else will be there? Who will they be interacting with?
Do they have the confidence and self-awareness needed?
Are they politically sensitive to discuss issues with clients, would-be clients, competitors?
Are they well-known for relationship building, their professional conduct and their friendliness?
When is a good time of day for you to network? There are meetings early morning, lunchtime and evening so when suits your business needs, your ability to commit and attend, and your desired audience? If you book to attend a forum, and cannot attend due to a work issue, that can reflect badly on your organisation even before you have had the opportunity to meet people. Be aware of when those you want to connect with are networking so you can be in the room with the right people for you.
Identifying your motivation to network can help you answer the who, when and where. It may be that you are seeking clients, suppliers, support services or that you just want a bit of support and like-minded people to discuss issues with.
If you think that networking is a selling forum you will be disappointed. Networking is about relationship building, mutual interest and building rapport with other business leads. A Greek philosopher said “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we can talk” and that indeed is a good mantra for networking. Listen, ask questions and learn about others. You will find the clients, suppliers, support services or whatever it is you are looking for but only once you have built those relationships and invested time.
Your business sector and time availability will influence the where.
Some networking forums are ad-hoc, with a changing attendance list each time. Others are subscribed membership which means the same group of people each meeting. The monetary investment involved may influence the type of business that attends and it is worth looking at membership lists, and past attendance lists to help decide where you should be.
Networking is a skill. Skills such as how you introduce yourself, shake hands, stand, behave and follow-up. They are skills that must be learnt and developed if you are to benefit from the time investment needed in networking.
If you would like to improve your networking skills, or assess what networking fits with your team and business plan, or simply be introduced to some networking forums, we would be happy to help you. We can help you work through your who, why, when and where to ensure your time is well spent and benefits are maximised.