In my previous career in the recruitment industry with Reed, Blue Arrow and Adecco, we were taught the importance of networking. This was in the days before LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook, so we had to do it the good old-fashioned way: go out and meet people! This involved running events, assisting clients (such as Astra Zeneca and Matalan) with 'Learning at Work Day' events, and speaking at as many events as possible. The important thing was to get your leaflets out and speak to as many people as you could, as well as collection loads of business cards (which all then needed to be followed up). This had to be undertaken within the first 3 days of meeting that person before they went off the boil. At this time, the word 'Business Development' was a dirty word!
Move forward 20 years, and professionals - including accountants and solicitors - now have business development as part of their remit.
As an SME, and having run my own consultancy for 17 years, you may well ask what networking has done for me, and whether or not I have any hints and tips to share. For me, there are 3 key things that I feel are important in relation to networking:
Decide what you are going to communicate. You have to ask yourself "what is my brand?" and "who are my audience?" before you launch yourself into any on or offline networking. At present, there are so many events that you could spend every day attending a different one. How will this benefit you or your business in the short and the long term? I often meet people at events who do not have a clear strategy as to what to communicate regarding their product or service. So clarify who you want to communicate to, what you want to communicate, and how you are going to do it.
You are now ready to make some connections. So, how are you going to do this? An obvious method is social media. There is so much choice nowadays; I find that Facebook is useful for long-term contacts that have been clients and are now friends. Twitter has proven successful for sharing my message, and LinkedIn for maintaining visibility and creating and reinforcing my brand. But I have found that, after the initial connection via social media, the face-to-face meetings are where you cement that connection and decide if you can do business together.
Netowrking isn't just about gaining business; you also give business to others when you meet them. One of my suppliers, Greenlight Computers, has taken care of my IT needs for the past 7 years, and this started from a networking event organised by the 'Federation of Small Businesses' (FSB). We met, connected, and have worked together ever since.
A good networker uses different communication styles to make their networking effective. With social media, look at the words you use and the tone of your communication. With face-to-face networking, look at the impact you make when walking into the room and put forward a compelling case to attract your fellow networkers to make contact with you. Don't do what one complete stranger did to me at a networking event: interrupt the conversation, invade someone else's personal space, thrust a business card into their hand, pitch your business, then move on to better prey without listening to a word from the other person.
Form an Alliance
This is about meeting someone, finding common ground, and getting them to commit to an ongoing relationship. Initially, just meet for coffee and explore the relationship, or - if they have a need - you can offer support; it could be 'I know someone whom I feel you should meet', or 'I am going to an event, would you like to come?' It is crucial that, at all stage, you remember the golden rule: 'Do not take and not give back'. There is nothing worse than the network grabber who asks for your help and takes it, but when you call them, they are never available. Then, when they want something, they give you a ring! Always give back, share, and try to help if you can.
If you would like to hear more about my knowledge of networking (spanning over 20 years) and how to make the most of your network, our next course, Networking for Business Success, will be hold 14th May at our offices at Regus, Peter House, Oxford Street, Manchester.
Tel: 0161 209 3950 // Email: firstname.lastname@example.org