Using Networking to Build Your Business
Networking, actively seeking out people who can aid your business to grow, either directly or through their own contacts, is something that many business people find a little off-putting. For some reason it seems like something we associate with over-familiar American used-car salesmen, or oily motivational speakers.
Everyone NetworksThe bottom line is that all business comes to us through personal contact with people, either face to face, by phone or e-mail. You cannot build a business without communicating and you can’t build a business without customers, so you already practice networking at some level.
Networking can help you build contacts, find informal sources of advice and support, help make your business better known and build your personal profile and help you be seen as an industry expert, all at a lower cost than many other forms of marketing. You may think it’s scary and feel shy about marching up to people and introducing yourself, but practically everyone else will be feeling the same way.
Join the ClubThere are many ways to widen your connections and find new opportunities through networking.
A wide variety of business organisations, from Chambers of Commerce to Local Enterprise Companies organise networking events such as business breakfasts and networking evenings. Trade associations and industry membership groups, such as the Chartered Institute of Marketing also organise events to visit prospective clients. A quick search on the web for your own industry or region should throw up plenty of information. There are also a number of associations for business women and women in certain industries that can also provide a source of business and support.
Business people under forty may find their local junior chamber of commerce offers networking opportunities as well as a chance to build practical skills in project management and presenting. Organisations such as the Rotary Club combine networking opportunities with fundraising and activities.
There are several global networking organisations which are organised into chapters and have an exclusive membership approach, whereby each chapter consists of only one person from each industry or profession. These clubs tend to meet weekly and the members pass on business leads to each other. If you should choose to join such an organisation, you will need to provide leads as well as benefit from them, but then that’s the thing about networking – it’s about building mutually beneficial relationships, so that everyone’s business grows.
Networking without Leaving your DeskOnline networking is becoming more popular with social networks for business people and entrepreneurs springing up all the time. Some of these are more effective than others. It can be a good idea to ask people you know which they would recommend.
Whatever events you attend, or whatever group you join, keep in mind that you can’t treat this as a one-off event. You might go back to your workplace with your pockets filled with business cards, but if you don’t keep in touch then you’ve wasted your time. Make a point of contacting each person you met, provide them with more information about your services and passing on any leads or information that might help their business. This can be as simple as forwarding on a news story or just saying what a pleasure it was to meet and you hope that you’ll be able to work together in the future.
So how do you get started? Just sign up for an event, join an organisation, grab your business cards, take a deep breath, smile and say hello…