Networking – as a small business owner you know you should be doing it, but where to start? Networking can be a great way of growing your contacts, increasing awareness of your business, and also finding new staff and suppliers, so it really is worth investing some time in networking, as long as you do it effectively.
Networking doesn’t just have to involve attending dreary events where everyone stands up and has five minutes to introduces their business. Here are some ideas to get you started – some will work better for you than others and you’ll need to work out what suits you:
- Networking events and groups – do some research online and amongst your friends and colleagues to find out what groups and events exist locally. These may be groups brought together because they all trade in a local area; they may be groups that trade in a specific industry. Some groups are more formal than others and if you attend a few you will quickly work out which you prefer.
- Online networking – following relevant people and groups on Twitter and joining groups and liking business pages on Facebook can increase your network of contacts. Linkedin can be particularly useful for identifying useful contacts and also joining groups and contributing to discussions.
- Hobbies and interests – don’t underestimate the power of contacts made outside of work situations. Hobbies and interests can introduce you to many people you wouldn’t otherwise meet, and any of these could be potential networking contacts. This is a particularly ‘natural’ way to meet new people.
- Hosting events – consider hosting events, seminars or training sessions. You get to pass on your expertise to other people as well as meeting new people and introducing your business to some potential new clients.
Whichever networking opportunites you use, it is important not to expect instant results. Networking is less about generating sales and more about building relationships. Lots of the people you meet may never buy from you – but they may recommend you. The more people you build relationships with, the wider your network becomes and even if this doesn’t generate instant sales, it is increasing the pool of people who know about you. Play the long game and build meaningful relationships.
Something else to remember is to always be prepared. Think about your message and how you will introduce yourself to people. Don’t be too ‘salesy’ when you speak to people and make sure you listen to what they have to say as well. There might be some useful suppliers there who could help your business so always remember networking is a two-way street.
And finally, try to relax and enjoy it. Good luck!