For many businesses, networking is a great way of getting new business. It can be much more effective than advertising, and the costs are mostly your time.
However, lots of people are put off going to networking groups and miss out on this opportunity.
Here’s what to expect and some tips on how to get the most out of networking groups.
Firstly remember that you are there to build relationships. You are not there to sell to people. If people think that you are only interested in selling to them, they will be put off, and ultimately won’t want to buy from you, or recommend you to others.
If you can understand that networking is a long-term game and that the rewards will only come after you have invested some time in getting to know people, then you will reap rewards.
Types of networking groups
Networking groups vary enormously. There are what called the “hard networking” groups such as BNI, BRE and clones of these groups. These groups usually meet once a week at some ungodly time in the morning and are closed groups.
This means that they only have one person from a particular industry or sector, so only one painter and decorator and one florist can join. You have to pay a fee to join, and you get breakfast each week.
The format of the meeting is that everyone introduces themselves and what they do for one minute each, and everyone can make a request for the sort of referrals that they are looking for.
A referral is a potential customer for one of the other members. So if you are a search engine optimisation specialist, you might say something like
“I’m Patrick and I help people to get customers coming to their websites from the search engines. I’m looking for referrals of people who are currently putting together a website.”
These groups are based on referrals – if you get referrals for the other members, they will look for potential customers for you.
They work well for people who:
- Like getting up early (you can probably tell that this isn’t me!)
- Can very easily explain what they do, so if you do some very esoteric or technical kind of work, a BNI type group might not be for you
- Can bring in referrals for other people.
There are other “soft networking” groups around. These are usually in the evening and are often based, around an event. If you go along to the Brighton Chamber of Commerce or other groups like this, you will find around 50 people in a room all in small groups chatting to one another.
It can be quite daunting to just walk in and go up to complete strangers, but remember that everyone else is doing exactly that and that they are probably just as nervous as you are.
I find that just going up to someone who is on their own or a group of three people and saying “Hello, my name’s Julia, can I join you?” always works well.
People are usually very inclusive and friendly and if they’re not, just move on to the next group of people. It’s perfectly okay to say “It was lovely to talk to you, but I really should mingle” and then move on to talk to other people.
Networking in your area of expertise
There are other specialised networking opportunities, such as local groups of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, or groups that organise workshops and talks such as Wired Sussex, which specialises in events for new media companies.
Going along to a workshop always gives you something to talk to other people about, and makes it easier to find out about people’s interests.
Top tips for going to networking groups
Practice a 30-second introductory speech before you go, and make sure that it tells people what you want them to hear about you and your business.
Relax and enjoy yourself – networking is fun and most of the people that you will meet will be lovely.
Take your business cards and be ready to give them to people
If you do feel nervous, take a couple of deep breaths before you go into the room.
On the way there, think of how you would like people to see you. Practise that aura of success and believe in it yourself.
Don’t be afraid to talk to lots of people – if someone is especially interesting, or you think that you might be able to do business with them, get their card and suggest getting together for a coffee sometime.
Do not stick with the people that you know already. If you go with someone else, agree to split up and go and talk to people. If you spend the evening chatting to a friend, people will be less likely to come and talk to you.
Be a host – if someone is stuck on their own, go up to them and make sure that they’ve got someone to talk to.
Be interested in people, even if they’re boring, there’s always something there that is fascinating, even if you have to dig a little to find it.
Be ready to do people favours – if you can help someone out, then they will be much more likely want to help you in some way, including recommending you to potential customers.
Come and say hello
If you are at a networking group in Brighton, and you see me, then please do come and say hello – this is what I look like!
Networking groups in Brighton and Sussex
Here’s a list of the networking groups in Brighton, Hove and Sussex, and what I think of them. Feel free to let me know about other groups that I may have missed.
Some more tips here
If you do decide to go, then have a read of the following
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Photo credit to Samuel Zellar from Unsplash, the team at Vervate and Simon Callaghan Photography