We are blessed in Hertfordshire with a host of networking groups, from women in business groups to industry groups and more. Comprising of like minded business people, often in a specific geographical area, the networking organisations can be invaluable to small enterprises.
Business networking organisations help you to forge relationships with other local businesses who can share resources, pass customers on and find suppliers or advice. It can also be useful as means of support and research into the local market. The face to face nature of these meetings can be very helpful in building bonds with local business and help you to sell your service or products into a wider audience.
To get the most from these meetings, go into it with a confident, open mind:
Some networking groups have regular breakfasts, and these can be an excellent introduction. Breakfasts are often early, so hopefully won’t eat into a busy day, and they also tend to be short as many people have appointments to meet, meaning you can be comfortable about keeping it fairly brief if you are nervous
If you attend a lunch or afternoon event, try to keep the alcohol to a minimum. Although it is tempting to gather a little ‘dutch courage’, you will make a much better impression sober, and will remain clear on your objectives
Think about your goals. Are you looking to find suppliers and customers? Is it important to you to enter networks with your competition and work together?
Be confident. Many attendees may also be nervous about joining, or public speaking, but ultimately you will all have similar goals
Be smart. First impressions are so important, so make a good one by dressing smartly and appropriately and showing you mean business
Listen. A golden rule in sales, and even more important face to face. Listen to your contacts, maintain eye contact, and you will forge much better relationships from the outset
Prepare. Take some time to prepare a few points about what your business does and it’s aims, so that you don’t stutter your responses and can give a clear and accurate picture of business, and hopefully get the conversation started
Know your USPs. Give prospective contacts something to remember, a snippet of interest to spark conversation and interaction
Follow it up. If you do meet some interesting people, don’t shy away from further contact. Send a quick email, or better still, give them a call and follow the lead through.
Don’t forgot to use the networks easily at your fingertips, too. LinkedIn has rapidly taken over as one of the biggest commercial networking sites, and both Twitter and Facebook have their merits in connecting you quickly and easily with like minded enterprises. What you may miss out in terms of face to face interaction is replaced by the visibility and immediacy of really getting to know your commercial community and the image they wish to present. It can also be easier to approach new contacts in an online forum and enable you to do your research first.