LOCAL BUSINESS NETWORKING is something that everyone feels they should be doing to IMPROVE and PROMOTE their own business or the business they’re working for. However, new networkers often don’t know exactly where to start. If you want to meet like-minded people in your industry, create connections that will bring you opportunities for growth, and learn how to succeed both professionally and individually, read on…
There are many different kinds of regular local business networking groups (Chamber of Commerce, Chamber of Trade, 4N, BNI, B2B…) and one-of events which provide many different kinds of different opportunities, and making the most of these will help you to get ahead. Here are some tips to help you learn the ins and outs of business networking and get the best return on your investment in this important business skill.
1. Always Plan Ahead
If you go into a networking event with a specific goal and a plan for achieving it, you’re more likely to leave successful.
Consider these possible goals:
- Raising your company profile
- Gaining new contacts
- Learning new skills
- Generating referrals
Keep focused on your goal. When you’re talking to regulars at an event, get a feel for whether this event fits your strategy. Be choosy about which events to attend based on what you learn, so that you can make the most of your networking time and money.
2. Perfect Your (Elevator) Pitch
- Create a one-minute “elevator pitch” and practice it until you can recite it smoothly at a moment’s notice. Describe your business objectives clearly and concisely. Include your professional expertise and USPs. Make sure your current goal is front and center.
- What makes your business stand out? People at networking events talk to lots of people in a short time, so you need to be memorable. Find the thing that sets you apart and showcase it in your pitch.
- Props can help you demonstrate your expertise. Find something that people can see and touch beyond just your business cards and printed marketing material.
- Shine a spotlight on testimonials from your satisfied customers. Their words can be one of your best selling tools.
3. Get Ready To Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
It’s easy to find yourself gravitating toward people you already know. But that goes against the whole idea of networking. Remind yourself that many other people feel the same way that you do: you’re not the only new person here. Scan the room for people you haven’t met yet and who may be looking a little lost themselves. Strike up a conversation, make some introductions, and take the first steps toward being that person who knows everyone.
4. Being There is Everything
Networking takes time. Trust isn’t built overnight, so attending events with the same people regularly helps cement your presence in their minds. Follow up with people regularly and follow through on your commitments. As you spend the time to build up your network of business relationships, you’ll begin opening doors to new business opportunities.
5. Always Practice *Active* Listening
You’re at these events to meet your goals, but don’t forget that everyone else is there to meet theirs. You may be just the person to help them, so listen to their pitch with the same sincerity you’d hope for from them.
- See if the two of you have any common ground. You may have similar objectives or be able to help each other meet your needs.
- Even if you can’t help directly, consider your own network of contacts. If you can make a connection, you’ll be setting up the potential for future opportunities or partnerships.
- Utilize open-ended questions: how, who, why. This demonstrates your interest and opens up the opportunity for further discussion and learning opportunities.
6. Always Follow Up and Keep In Touch
A networking event is only the beginning. The real magic happens afterward: it’s all about the follow-up. Use social media to stay in touch, be proactive about reaching out, and be sure to follow through on any commitments you make. Schedule 121’s with key individuals outside of networking sessions to help you avoid getting into long conversations during the event, preventing you from meeting other people and making the most of the limited event time.
7. Become A Super-Connector
Take advantage of opportunities to make introductions and referrals. Whenever possible, provide direct contact information, and then follow up with both parties, checking back in to see if the connection proved valuable. If you were introduced or recommended by someone, be sure to update the person who made the introduction. They’ll be happy to know about successful outcomes. You can even thank them publicly at the next networking event, which will demonstrate the benefits of the network group and build your credibility and reputation.
8. Measure Your Progress
- Are you achieving your objectives? Have your goals changed?
- How much business are you generating through networking, either directly or by introductions/referrals?
- Assess these business gains against the costs in time and money to evaluate whether you need to make any changes to your networking strategy.
9. Practice Good Networking Etiquette
Don’t just shove your business cards or marketing materials at people. Networking is about building relationships, credibility, and trust, not just making sales. Even if you have a service or product that is relevant, a hard sell is often considered crass, and it’s not a great first impression. The long-term benefits of successful networking far outweigh a couple of direct sales, so focus on becoming a well-liked member of the business community, helping others and building up a positive reputation.
10. Always Dress to Impress
Looking good helps you feel good, and feeling good is vital for your networking confidence. This doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit, especially if you don’t wear suits regularly. Wear appropriate attire for your line of business, maybe stepping it up just ONE notch. A professionally produced name badge helps make you more approachable for people who may struggle with remembering names.
- Shake hands and make eye contact
- Smile and keep your body language open and friendly
- Be memorable for the right reasons
People prefer to do business with people they know, like and trust. Networking is a great tool to make connections, establish yourself in the business community, and achieve long-term success.