I have built a business, almost entirely, using networking. I continue to network, although less than I used to. I now have a large business network, built up from going to networking meetings. These are people I’ve met, chatted with over coffee and I know.
Why did I build a business using networking?
I started my business a couple of years after moving from Hertfordshire. I had been teaching for thirteen years. My network in East Yorkshire consisted of a few members of the local choir and some parents at my kids’ school. I searched for teaching colleagues on Linkedin and found that teachers don’t use it. Well, I suppose I didn’t either. That meant I was starting a business with a tiny network so there seemed only one logical way forward, to build one.
I have learnt a lot after my inial toe-dipping into the world of business networking. Initially, I put zero effort into my networking beyond turning up. I put no thought into what I’d say. I would chat to people and ask if they wanted a website. If they didn’t I would won
der why I was there. I was not a great networker. I was always happy chatting to people and never sat alone in the corner playing on my phone. So I suppose I wasn’t the worst.
Since then I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve gone on to run several successful networking groups and to gain a large personal network. So what have I learnt on the way?
Most networking events have a slot for you to speak. To give your elevator pitch. Plan it, practice it, learn it. There are many excellent blogs, books and videos about planning your elevator pitch. So I won’t go into that here. Don’t turn up and wing it.
Think about who you would like to be referred to. Everyone in the room knows lots of other people. Who is your ideal client and how can you help them? Can you get that across succinctly in a none salesy way? If you describe your ideal client well enough, then someone in the room is bound to say “yes, I know someone just like that”. You have a referral.
Try to find out who is going to be there. You won’t find out by asking the organisers. They aren’t allowed to tell you due to GDPR rules. If you help to run the meeting then you’ll probably have access to the list of attendees. This is one of the major benefits of being on a team. If you’re not on the team think about the regulars. Who are usually there? You could also put up a social media post. “Hey, I’m going networking at the Hull Marina on Friday morning, who else is joining us?” For those that are coming, do your research. How might you be able to help them? Which of your services might be appropriate for them? Are they in your target market? What connections might they have that would be useful to you? Plan who you want to talk to at the event and what about.
Spend time as soon as you can after a meeting following up. You should have collected lots of business cards. Connect with them all on Linkedin. Perhaps add a note saying how great it was to meet them. Check your notes (make sure you take some). Did you promise to follow up with anyone, make any connections or anything else? Make sure you follow through with anything you promised to do in the meeting. Is there anyone you met who you’d like to set-up a longer one to one with? I send a card through the post (yes a physical handwritten card) to anyone I’ve met for the first time at networking. This gets you noticed.
Someone once explained to me that networking is about helping people. The more you help someone, the more you’ve invested in them, the more likely they are to help you. Running a meeting helps with this. By running the meeting you’ve just helped everyone in the room. Try and help people as much as you can. Who would they like to connect to? Who are their ideal clients? Who are they trying to help? I usually send a few connection emails every week for people I’ve met networking. Can you help with the questions people have in your area of expertise? You are then helping them and establishing yourself as an expert.
You will get much more from networking if you spend your time listening rather than talking. I don’t mean sit quietly in the corner of the room eavesdropping. But, let other people speak. Don’t cut them short to get your point across. This is especially true in a one to one situation. In one to one meetings I spend lots of time and effort trying to get the other person to talk about themselves. People love to talk about themselves. You’ll learn lots about them, their business and what’s important to them. They’ll also remember what a great conversation they had with you. Because they got to talk about themselves. That’s way more interesting than them listening to you. It’s not that you’re not interesting. It’s just that people love to talk about themselves. In the long term, you’ll get more work this way than talking to them about how your business can help them. People hate being sold to. Especially when they don’t know, like and trust you.
Helping to run a meeting
All meetings need organising and need a team of people to do this. Committing to do this takes time and effort. Doing it, and doing a bad job does your reputation no favours. There are, however, some huge advantages to being on a team if you commit to it and do it well. I have talked about some of them already. You know who is coming to the meeting. This means you can plan your networking and do your homework. To me, that is the most valuable part of being on a team. You’re doing everyone in the room a favour by running that meeting. That means they’ll start to help you. Especially the regulars. It helps you to become known more quickly as you’re known for networking as well as for your business. Running a networking event gives you a great excuse to reach out to people who you want to meet. Inviting someone who you don’t know to a networking event is a much easier sell than asking them to buy your product. That can come later, once they’ve got to know you. Most events also have various extras they give to team members. Such as free entry to the event or free membership.
There are loads of different business network meetings in Hull, East Yorkshire and around the country. Some are national brands others are local meetings. Hull seems to be jam-packed with them. I can think of fifteen different business networking events in Hull off the top of my head. Which one should you go to? I recommend finding a little bit about them and giving them a try. They all like visitors. The format, formality, style and clientele vary. See which works for you on all of these fronts. Some meetings focus on referrals, others on relationships. Some only allow one person from each industry, others allow a mix. I would say don’t be shy of others in your industry. I have received work and referred work with other web designers I’ve met networking.
If you are going to go networking do it well and put the effort in. Prepare beforehand, catch up afterwards and help and listen while you are there. You might soon find leads appearing from your networking activities.