How to network effectively

network‘Networking’ – for most people this is a daunting prospect; the idea of approaching a complete stranger, asking them about their business and at the same time promoting your own, fills people with dread. I still have reservations about this process even to this today (well I am only human after all!) and I have been actively networking for two years now. Having spent these last two years trying out various forums and events, I feel confident in what works and what doesn’t; certainly within my own industry; office refurbishments and relocations.

In order to look at how networking can be effective, you need to be aware of the different types of event that exist out there, what sort of delegates you are likely to meet and how to get the best from the event itself. So I have provided a guide to the various types of event and how to get the best out of each of them.

  1. Members only groups - these tend to be ‘invitation only’ with regular attendees (or members) meeting on a regular basis (ranging from weekly to yearly). Members will make a financial commitment to the group, signing up a pre agreed time. The fee structure correlates to the type of people you may meet. For example a £20.00/month fee would attract a very different type of company and delegate to that of a £5,000.00 fee. There is usually some sort of formal business referral process with members using their own network of contacts to generate business for other members. Examples of this type of group include ‘Trafford Enterprises Ltd’ and ‘BNI’ (Business Networkers International).
  2. General networking – this is the type of group that most people will encounter when they start to actively network. There are countless clubs and events all over the country, which are open to anyone. No formal business referral process exists here and there is usually no limit on the number of delegates that can attend. Attendees pay a one-off fee to attend, usually to cover the hire of the venue and light refreshments, and then it’s down to them to meet other delegates and discuss business. This type of event suits smaller businesses that can provide services to a broad spectrum of clients. For example IT support, Insurance brokers and painter and decorators etc. Examples of this type of group include Business Biscotti and 4N.
  3. Industry Specific Groups – industry specific groups also exist, both as members’ only groups and general networking. Trafford Enterprises Ltd for example runs several ‘industry’ focussed groups, including property and marketing, throughout the South-East. The Doyle Club is a property focussed event in London. There are also events such as Movers and Shakers, which offer general networking within the property industry but also has guest speakers at each event.
  4. Online networking – Social Media has been Buzz phrase of the last five years. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn. The network for professionals is LinkedIn. From my own experience, LinkedIn is a good way to open up doors but in order to work on the key messages in this blog, ‘relationship building’ and ‘trust’ you will need to follow up any connections with a face to face meeting and stay in touch outside of LinkedIn. The plus side of LinkedIn is that you can be very targeted in who you want to approach. You can research the connection before you make that approach to ensure they are the type of connection you want. LinkedIn also has a function to export your connection data to a CSV file, which will allow you to insert it into a CRM system for future contact. It can also act as a supplementary tool to connect with someone you have met at face to face networking event.

Getting the most out of networking

  1. Build relationships and trust – I have a question – when buying services to undertake important work on your house or your car; work that is important to you and your family, would you happily give that business to someone you just met in a bar and have no real knowledge of or more importantly trust? I thought not! So why would you do that in a business setting? I certainly wouldn’t. To network effectively you need to build relationships and trust with people. This can only be done over several meetings and encounters. The person who enters a networking forum with the objective of coming out with a nice piece of instant business from another member is very naïve. Sometimes it happens but it’s rare! Structured groups like BNI and Trafford are built around this principle of trust and relationship building.
  2. Offer to help – many people approach networking with the aim of selling and promoting their business. To get the most out of networking you need to flip this way of thinking on its head. One of my first questions when networking is to ask the person I’m speaking to ‘what are you looking for out of this event?’ Or ‘how can I help you?’ If you’re willing to help others they will more likely trust you and ultimately business will begin to flow back towards you from other members, without you having to work too hard for it!
  3. Follow ups and one to ones - the events listed here, be they structured or general are great as initial introductions between businesses and also to serve as a regular reminder of who you are and what your company does but in order to build a proper relationship and ultimately trust, you need to meet on a one to one basis with the other person and really get under their skin. Find out about their business; always be thinking about how you can help them. If they are a likeminded networker, they will be doing the same for you and your business.

Conclusion

This article only really scratches the surface. There are many types of event that are not discussed here such as local chamber of commerce groups and training sessions with guest speakers offered by both public and private organisations. Movers and Shakers and IOD are good examples of these. Regardless of the type of event you attend the basic principles remains the same; effective networking is a ‘slow burn’. Be patient; don’t expect instant business. The ‘Business Card Ninja’, throwing his/her cards out to all comers at their first meeting won’t be remembered or more importantly trusted (I actually had someone pass their business card over once by holding it in their hand and sliding it to me in the initial handshake like a cheap bribe to a waiter – needless to say I haven’t been in touch since). So build trust within your network; be the person that other members/contacts remember. If they trust you and remember you, they will sell for you.

Happy Networking!

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