Top tips for growing your business by networking
People do business with people they know and trust
What are the reasons for networking?
Behind every procurement decision is a person, whether this is the business owner, or a procurement director. People do business with people. Preferably people they know and trust.
Making connections and networking can open doors for you and your business that might not previously have opened. If you bear with me while I flog this metaphor a little more: you might even find out about doors you didn’t even know were there.
Networking also gives you the opportunity to learn from people in your network and get introductions to people you may not have otherwise met.
How do you choose the right networking events?
Once you’ve decided to try to use networking to grow your business, it can be easy to make the mistake of going to anything and everything – becoming a professional networker. Instead of adopting a scattergun approach like this, try to choose the right events for you based on their merits.
Think about what the event will actually bring to you and your business. And also, what you might be able to bring to the event.
Will the networking event you’re thinking of going to help you to learn something new, or reinforce something you already knew?
Seminars, conferences, networking breakfasts and discussion groups and training opportunities can help to teach you how to do things that will help you to improve your expertise and increase your company’s value.
If the event won’t teach you anything, maybe reconsider.
Will there be interesting keynote speakers or addresses from industry experts that can help you to spark new ideas?
Listening to people who are authorities in their fields and discussing with your peers can help you to get creative and take away things that you can implement across your business.
If this isn’t likely at the event you’re thinking of attending, is it worth your time?
Broaden your horizons
Meeting new people and making new connections at networking events can help you to find new suppliers, new clients and new people to learn from. Consider attending larger regional and national events as well as your local ones to enable you to extend your reach.
This could expose you to business opportunities you may otherwise have missed out on.
Having just said it’s important to go to larger national events, don’t discount your local ones.
If the event is close to your existing clients, or to some clients you want to win, you can perhaps extend your trip and drop in to see them as well.
Will the event provide you with training on software or any other tools you use or are considering using? If so, it might be worth the trip.
Find out who else is going
You can use LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to take a look at who else is going to an event. If the people that are going are the sort of people you want to meet, why not try to schedule a few coffees with them?
Get early bird discounts
Many events offer discounts for people who book places early. Take advantage of these by booking as soon as you can after you’ve decided you want to go. Even if there isn’t a discount, by booking as quickly as possible, you can make sure you get a place at the more sought after networking events on the calendar.
Once you’ve chosen your networking event, how do you build your network?
Just booking yourself on to and turning up at your chosen events isn’t enough, alone, to grow your business by networking.
You need to have a strategy to ensure that you can fill your network with people that you can help, and who can help you.
Don’t expect to just take
Be helpful. Helping other people in your network to meet each other, take advantage of opportunities or just to learn from your expertise is an excellent way to ingratiate yourself with them.
If you get an opportunity to help someone’s kids; do it. There are few things – if any – that will convince someone of how trustworthy and useful you are than helping their son or daughter to get a job, training, or work experience.
If you can help someone in your network to learn or achieve something, or introduce them to a new client or supplier, they’re much more likely to do the same for you in future.
Create a reputation
Make yourself known for your skill, professionalism, expertise, talent and helpfulness. If you can achieve this, people will want to know you. If you’re as valuable to a relationship as the person you want to meet, then it becomes mutually beneficial and can ensure people you know are happy to introduce you to their connections if you ask them to.
If nobody knows who you are and what you do, then you’ll never make any valuable connections. Just like the old adage ‘you can have the best product in the world, but if no-one knows about it…’ if you don’t make yourself and your skills known to the networking groups you’re a part of, then you might as well not be there.
Think outside the box
Granted, the expression itself has become something of a cliché and could be seen as thinking well inside the proverbial storage unit. However, this is something that is definitely valuable when it comes to creating a network that can help you to grow your business.
Don’t just rely on conferences and networking events to meet people. Use any and every opportunity you get.
For example, if you go to a running club on a Thursday, talk to the people there. Make conversation. Find out about people and let them find out about you. This will take time, but making friends with people is the best way to build trust between you. Just by talking to people you already know you can make some fantastic connections and uncover great opportunities.
Don’t be transparent
Ok, so everyone who is at a networking event is there for the same reasons. But don’t be the one who seems to be there solely to promote yourself and your business. And don’t ask for advice from people as a cover for trying to advertise yourself. Talk to people normally and relationships will grow.
Networking and making connections will open doors for you. But don’t expect it to happen overnight. Don’t just swap business cards and connect on LinkedIn. Stay in touch with people and make sure the relationships you make work for you and the people you connect with.
Don’t forget to follow up on conversations at networking events. Email people, call them. Remember to do what you told them you’d do. And prompt them to do things they’ve told you they’ll do. This will not only help you to ensure your efforts aren’t wasted. It will also help you to build a reputation as someone who is reliable.
Don’t focus solely on events for your own industry
Although these networking occasions can be useful to help you learn new things and keep you abreast of changes in your industry, they won’t always be great for networking.
Events for your own industry probably won’t be full of potential clients and suppliers. They’re more likely to be full of your competitors.
Don’t avoid them, they can be useful, but don’t focus your networking efforts too heavily on these events either.
Don’t just talk
Listen to people. This is one of the simplest, yet most regularly forgotten, ways of getting people to like and trust you. When you’re genuinely interested in people, they genuinely want to talk to you – this can help you to learn about what challenges people face and what they need help with. In the long run, this can lead to more useful business relationships.
Don’t be afraid to ask
It can’t hurt to ask people to introduce you to somebody. To ask people to meet with you. To ask for advice. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know, and you’ll be surprised how often people say yes; after all, they’re there for the same reasons you are.
Don’t expect too much for free
Asking one or two questions of someone in your network is generally ok. Just be careful you don’t push it too far and begin to ask for, or expect, them to provide you with things that you’d normally pay for, for free. Don’t be afraid to employ the services of someone from your network that you trust, if it becomes apparent that you need them.
In addition to this, don’t put people on the spot and ask them about things outside of their area of expertise, it’ll only put them on the spot and potentially make them feel you’ve not listened to them.
Use your networks to grow your business
If you’re serious about using networking to grow your business, then you can’t go far wrong by following this advice. Be patient. Be persistent. Take your time.
You’ll often be pleasantly surprised by how much networking can help you to grow your business. Not just within your own ever-expanding list of contacts, but from word-of-mouth advertising, too.
If you build a reputation for being helpful and knowledgeable, people will talk about you.
Networking events that could help you
At Business First Business Centres across the North West and Glasgow, you can attend a wide variety of different networking events that will give you opportunities to meet people that could help you to grow your business.