A smart business person once said that the opposite of networking is NOT working. The implication is clear: if you want your business to succeed, you must employ networking techniques.
Having a great product or service is one thing; having a robust and traditional marketing plan is another, including all the latest digital marketing channels. Still, for many companies, especially start-up businesses, networking is vital.
What do we mean by Networking?
In simple terms, networking means speaking to professional contacts, building a rapport with them, sharing information, exchanging contact details, and then hoping it leads to some business.
When done correctly, it can lead to more sales for a business, or better exposure internally for an employee, therefore helping him or her up the career ladder.
In this article, however, we’ll concentrate on business networking – and where business people can go to get the best results.
Join a Networking Group
Networking groups are fast-growing. There are breakfast clubs, groups that meet over lunch once a month, and others that relax over a few drinks once a month after work on a Friday. Others take part in activities like volunteering together for good causes.
The purpose of all of them is the same: to widen your business network and hopefully win business because of it.
Many network groups limit membership to one member per profession. After all, if you’re a bookkeeper, you don’t want to join a networking group that already has several others. In essence, it would dilute the expertise you can bring to the group, and also the opportunities presented to you.
Networking groups help introduce you to business owners like you who might be willing to collaborate on projects. Better still, some might want to offer you work directly.
Search online for suitable networking groups near you, or ask business contacts which formats they recommend.
While it might be daunting to walk into a room of strangers and mingle, perhaps over lunch, remember everyone is in the same boat. The key takeaway with networking groups is that you tend to get out of it what you put in. In other words, make little effort helping or advising others, and you’ll probably get nothing in return.
Join a Coworking Space
If you’re at the start of your business journey, you’ll know one of the big drains on your cash is office space. However, more people than ever are joining the coworking space revolution, sharing office facilities with others at a significantly reduced cost.
One of the benefits of coworking spaces is that you work alongside other like-minded business people. You get to meet people you can collaborate with and who might become clients. Imagine you are a web designer. You might share a coworking office space with a copywriter and a developer – perfect for teaming up and working on projects together.
Further, many of the larger coworking office spaces put on regular networking events of their own and often run workshops where you can brush up on skills like digital marketing.
Using Online Tools Like LinkedIn
Networking doesn’t have to be face-to-face. Modern tech makes it easy to build a network of contacts online and communicate with them. LinkedIn is the best-known business social network.
There’s plenty of advice online about how best to use LinkedIn. But just like face-to-face networking, you tend to get as much out of it as you put in. That means not just inviting people to connect, but communicating with them, commenting on and liking their posts – all positive things without first hitting them with a sales pitch.
Of course, LinkedIn lets you follow well-known business entrepreneurs like Virgin boss Richard Branson, so you can also pick up tips from him.
Communicating with Customers
You should not just limit your networking to land new customers. You should network just as hard with your existing clients. Make sure you keep in touch with them and show an interest in their work. After all, there’s little point in winning new business, completing it – then never speaking with the client again.
So, follow your clients on LinkedIn and promote their work. If possible, invite them out for a hamburger lunch or take them to a sporting or business event. On holidays, send them a card or gift to thank them for their business.
Repeat business is the key here, while also staying communicative gives existing customers more inclination to recommend you to others.
Don’t Isolate Yourself
Finally, a big mistake is to stop all your networking efforts because you’re busy and have enough clients. You never know what’s around the corner, and losing one or two key accounts could seriously damage your business. At least by networking, alongside your other marketing efforts, you’re always likely to bring in a steady stream of new customers.