Is networking right for your business

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By Stuart Hartley @anglestuart

There are lots of networking groups around, in all sorts of different formats.  I recently spotted one called Business over Biryani and have seen subsequent ones entitled business over beer.  They have various formats from the formal referral style to the informal chatting over coffee.  Each will have different costs, membership and subsequent benefits.

On line networking, specifically around social media has also created a number further networking opportunities for business owners.  LinkedIn and Twitter are both effective social networking tools for business.  There are also a number of physical networking groups who also have on line sections to allow members to connect.

Most people when attending networking think solely about generating new business by chatting directly to those who may wish to purchase their services or be able to refer to someone that will.

Networking though can help to do much more than that, in particular for new and small businesses.  If you have chosen the right group, with the right structure and the right membership you may be able to gather:

  • New ideas
  • Share common problems so you feel less isolated
  • Find out what your competitors are doing
  • Get help with specific problems in your business
  • Keep up to date with regulations, policies and new developments
  • Form relationships with potential collaborations

One key tip is to carefully choose which networking events to attend otherwise you could find that attending networking events fills your entire diary.

Think about how the event operates.  Formal sit down dinners or breakfasts are great for long in depth conversations with the people you are sat with however they may leave little time to reach the wider audience.  Likewise those with a key note speaker might provide an interesting, useful or inspiring presentation but may leave little time to network with others.

Another tip is to try and ascertain who is likely to be there prior to the event.  Some organisers may give company names prior to the event.  This serves many purposes:

  • It allows you time to research the companies attending to see if they themselves may want your services.  If so you can consider the benefits they may seek from you and your products / services and you can prepare a good bespoke case for each.  If they are not likely to require your business think about the companies that they may deal with on a day to day basis – will they require your services?
  • It allows you to spot whether there are any potential competitors due to attend
  • It allows you to judge whether the event is likely to be worth your time and money.

As with any marketing activity have a plan or an idea of what you want to achieve before attending the event.  Who would you like to speak to?  What message will you communicate to them?  What do you ultimately want to achieve from the event – more sales, more hits on your website, some advice about a specific problem, some potential partners / collaborators.  Remember networking needn’t be just about selling.

One final tip and one that I personally highly recommend.  Whenever I have networked I get more out of listening than I do giving.  Listen to other people’s problems, requirements etc.  You may be able to help by providing a contact of your own.  They will remember you more for helping than being sold at!  You have 2 ears, 2 eyes and one mouth, for me, networking activity should reflect this ratio!

There are many events in and around the Corby area that might fit the profile you are looking for and whilst we do not support one particular group the Enterprise Centre provides a venue for the fortnightly NNConnect meeting.

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