Gone are the days when networking was a competition to see who could exchange the most business cards in one organised evening. These days, effective networking is about making useful connections with fellow professionals, and organisations, and building on those business relationships. As such it is should be an essential tool, in both business and career development, and can lead the way to new opportunities before they become public knowledge.
Organised networking events can range from the leisurely drinks in a designated bar, a regular subscribers’-only business breakfast, or a cpd-oriented presentation followed by networking, to the positively high-octane speed networking. Whichever event you find yourself at the important thing is that you listen more and talk less to discover who you should be building mutually beneficial relationships with.
Although you are there to promote your business it’s not just about what you can get for yourself. The easiest way of making a lasting connection is by offering advice, or an introduction, to a new contact. It will give you a better chance of building up a relationship and, if the opportunity is there, of turning it into business at a later date.
So where do you start?
Now that networking has become so successful the problem is too much choice. When deciding where to go choose events that are likely to be attended by the decision-makers in your key target markets. If your competitors are there too it doesn’t matter. If possible get a list of attendees in advance and plan who you would like to meet on the day. The organisers can often point you in the right direction or make the initial introduction if you’re not too sure.
For those who hanker after the old days, there is always speed networking where participants get a minute or two to sell their business, exchange cards and move on to the next person. Here the value is in the follow up and, as with any kind of networking, if you don’t follow up on the contacts you’ve made you’ve wasted your time. Email or call them next day, remind them of your meeting and/or conversation, and give them some more details with a link to your website. If there was something of particular interest suggest meeting up to discuss, or demonstrate, it further.
Don’t forget that networking is an ongoing activity. It shouldn’t just be restricted to organised events. Always have some business cards handy because you never know when you are going to meet someone who can help you, or who you can help, to make a business connection.
About the author: Deborah Rowe, Marketing consultant, Sheba Marketing
Deborah is a chartered marketer, member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and fellow of both the Institute of Direct Marketing and the RSA. She has more than 20 years of solid marketing and communications experience which she puts to good use as principal consultant of Sheba Marketing.
Originally from a science and engineering background, she gained much of her initial experience in the construction industry, civil engineering, and the built environment. She now works with a wider range of clients in industries including professional services, professional associations and publishing. Through her enterprise agency clients she works with micro-businesses, and start-ups, to engender best practice and a strategic approach to marketing. She has been successfully running her business for 11 years.
Sheba Marketing provides no-nonsense business-to-business marketing support to small and medium-sized organisations in a range of sectors. The principal consultant works with a network of professionals to provide clients with tailored services to suit their needs. www.shebamarketing.co.uk