I’m a big fan of business networking as a way of building up your business.
I get about 60% of my business advice clients through business networking and referrals, so it’s a healthy way of generating new business.
Not to mention all the friends I’ve made, the people I trust when I need something for my business, and all the people I work with on joint projects. It’s important.
But I see a lot of people putting a lot of effort into going out networking and meeting new people, but then not making the most of those contacts as they go along.
So I want to talk about business networking as a system, a process that you can use to build your business.
If you follow this, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll get results, unless you’re selling false nails for cats, or Betamax videos.
Meet some nice people while networking
Find some people. Go out, meet some people who might be interested in your business. Go to some networking events (here’s my list of networking events in Brighton/Sussex)
Be nice. Be interested in what everyone else is doing. Get involved. Tell people about what you do, but after you’ve found out about them. Smile.
Aim to speak to between 5 and 10 people in an hour, rather than working the room.
This is the step that lots of people do. They show up, they talk to people, and they go off and do their work.
But it’s probably the least important step. It’s a bit like going and looking at lots of pound notes, but not bothering to do the work to put them in the bank.
How to put the pound notes in the bank
Apologies to those readers who are too young to believe that there ever were pound notes, but I’m sure you get the metaphor.
The next step is to follow up. Within the next couple of days, send the person you spoke to a quick email saying that it was nice to talk to them about…the foolishness of the 20% VAT rate, or the best place to buy ice cream in Brighton, or whatever you were chatting about.
If you can give them an article or a web link which helps them out in some way then this is nice too.
Make sure you have your phone number, website address and preferably a link to your twitter handle in your email signature, so when they want to get in touch they can find you. And, send them an invitation to join you on LinkedIn.
Keeping in touch
This is the most important, and difficult part of the networking system. I’m always astonished by how many people just disappear. Bounce back emails, resounding silence… Where are they all?
I’ve tried to find the nice ones on LinkedIn, but some of them seem to be lost forever. Some of this is my fault, as I’ve not followed my own rule about keeping in touch as much as I should, but it seems that quite a lot of people have just moved on, and not bothered to tell me that they’ve changed company or changed their email address.
So all that business networking they did was a waste of time – I’ve no way of helping them with whatever they’re doing now. But there are lots of people who are still alive and well and I’ve got their updated email address.
Here are some ideas for keeping in touch for business networking
- Identify your best referrers and friends and put them in a spreadsheet or allocate a category in Outlook. Make sure that you contact those people every 3 months in some way – this can be a good excuse to ask for referrals
- For your very best referrers and the people you like, be sure to ask them out on a cake date to catch up. Ensure you make time for this, especially if you’re busy. They’ll come in handy if you want to be busier.
- Ensure you’re checking out what people are doing on Twitter and/or LinkedIn, and comment. Make time to do this and just touch base every now and again.
- When people tell you about what they’re doing or ask for a favour, make sure you get back in touch, and tell them about what you’re up to as well
- Look for opportunities to do people favours. Not only does this give you a warm glow inside, the reciprocity principle means that they’ll be much more likely to do something for you at some stage. If you read an article about bee-keeping in urban gardens, send it to that person you met at the Brighton Chamber breakfast who does landscape gardening.
- If you think someone is offering a good service, be sure to do everything you can to promote their business. Sell them as if you were selling your own services. And be sure to tell them that you’ve made a referral, even if nothing comes of it they’ll still appreciate the effort.
- If you know people’s birthdays (and this can be as simple as noting it down when they tell you about the birthday they had last week, so you’re ready for next year) send them an email to say Happy Birthday. In an age where birthday cards and presents are dying out, they’ll be touched that you took the trouble.
Let me know how you get on.
Some more blogs on networking
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