Effective Networking – build your contacts.
There is no question that B2B networking has really grown over the past 3 or 4 years and it can be a great way to meet new contacts – so long as your networking is effective networking. As with most marketing, the reality can sometimes fail to match up to the hype. In my experience, many people will join a group then drift away after a few months because they don’t see anything coming out of their effort. This can be a mistake because face to face contacts are undoubtedly the best and strongest business contacts you can make. Strong contacts lead to good relationships and in turn, to good business. Here are my tips on how to make the most of your networking:
1. Focus on relevance
Different networking groups attract different types of business. Many of the formal networking groups attract a very broad range of (normally) small businesses. If you operate in a niche sector, maybe you need to find suitable sector specific network. If you can’t find one, why not start one!
2. Think quality, not quantity
Don’t see a network meeting as an opportunity to meet as many people as possible. You will soon be seen as a ‘card collector’ who is looking for contact names rather than business relationships. You are better to have 2 or 3 good conversations where you can make an impression. You should be ready to network regularly so there will be plenty of opportunity to meet more people at future gatherings.
3. Relationships matter
Networking is not a quick fix! Good relationships take time to develop. You should be prepared to visit a networking group regularly for at least 12 months before making a decision as to how effective it might be for you. This is one reason why you need to find a network of people where there is a ‘fit’ with your own business. In my experience you can meet some great people through networking but there should be a realistic chance that there are business opportunities for you too. There is often a focus in the general networking groups on the idea that it’s not the people you meet but the people they know. While this approach has merit, surely it is better fish in a pond that contains the fish you want to catch!
4. Networking is not just networking
Most formal networking groups are generalist. They are businesses in their own right (often franchises) and try to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. As a consequence, most businesses you find at these networking groups tend to be smaller service companies. Also, most of this type of networking group have a cost – either an annual fee or a meeting fee, or sometimes both. This can get quite expensive – another reason you need to see a return. If your’s is a niche business that doesn’t really deal with very small service businesses then effective networking can be quite tough in these groups. An alternative approach might be to look for organisations who have a role to support businesses in your target sector. For example:
- Local Authorities
- Training Agencies
- Professional Bodies
- Sector Bodies
- Business Support Agencies
- Health Authorities
- Education Authorities
By partnering with this type of organisation, perhaps using your specialist knowledge and expertise to facilitate workshops and seminars, you can get valuable access to contacts in businesses where your products and services can have real value.
5. Consider volunteering your time
Delivering a workshop or hosting a seminar attended by 10 or 12 (or more!) contacts from your target sectors can be a really effective networking approach that puts you in a valuable position. If you charge a fee for your time, you just become a supplier whereas if you can do it for no cost, you are a partner! By taking the ‘bigger picture’ the longer term business potential can be significantly enhanced. As we discussed above, regular networking normally has a direct financial (as well as a time) cost to you so actually, delivering a seminar for free (to the right people!) can be a really good deal for you.
6. Join-up your networking
You may only get good opportunities to network every month or so, and each time there is no guarantee that you will meet the same people to start to grow your relationships. Effective networking should be joined-up with your other marketing. If you take the business cards you are given and add these contacts to your database you will make sure you can keep ‘tapping them on the shoulder’ as we discussed in a previous post (you can see it here) I try to do it regularly. Typing information into a database can be really tedious but taking the line of ‘little and often‘ definitely make things easier. If you wish to discuss networking, email marketing on your marketing in general, do get in touch.