How much time do you have?
Do you need to attend networking meetings or could you be winning business some other way instead? As an agency, we would always advocate promoting your strengths through a variety of targeted media – as a complement to the personal touch. We have all learnt how to use online meeting platforms and ‘see each other’ via screens. If you’re virtually networking you have to be really clear vocally about what you’re after because it’s much harder to display your body language via a screen. However, no matter how virtual life gets, people will still always buy people – so, in business, making time for face to face networking is still vitally important.
We do a lot of networking both virtually and face to face. Virtual networking allows us to reach beyond our usual geographical area without having to travel, but we still think face to face networking forms a stronger bond in less time. We have attended all sorts of groups and meetings at various times of day. We often joke that we could become the size of a house and have no time to do any work if we attended all the meetings to which we were invited, so how do you pick the right ones and then make them work for you? Here’s our top tips:
- Prioritise meetings according to your current business goals. Who are you aiming at when finding new business? What geographical area are you looking at? (and does it matter?) If the meeting does not fit within your business goals then don’t waste your time attending.
- Who is going to be there? Don’t know? Ask the organiser! Find out if the other people attending are worth 2 hours of your working day (plus travel time if it’s face to face). We often find that lunches take the longest working chunk out of the day, so we tend to go for breakfasts and evenings. Everyone is different however and sometimes the attendee list really does make it worth attending whatever the time of day.
- You will fit into some groups better than others. Some groups (a bit like the ones on LinkedIn) will be a better fit for you. We have walked into some networking groups and almost seen the tumbleweed blow across the floor as we introduced ourselves. Whereas others we’ve been made very welcome at. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get a great feel from one group – there are lots of different types to try and you will find one that suits you.
- Manage your expectations. As with all marketing, you will not achieve much from just one try. Networking is about building relationships with people, which happens over time. Maintaining relationships takes effort – so we return to your business goals – is this meeting really worth it?
- Make your elevator pitch relevant. If there is just one person in that room with whom you’d love to do business, aim your pitch at their needs. Make it short – many groups do a 60 seconds round but some only allow 10 second introductions – so have a couple of pitches up your sleeve ready to go and practice them. Don’t forget to practice them. Oh, and did I say about practising them?
- Have your details ready to give out. This might be an obvious statement, but you would not believe how many people we’ve met when networking who have not filled in their online profile or (at face to face meetings) have run out of business cards! If you have any merchandising or other marketing collateral, then check with the organiser to see if it’s OK to bring along or email people too. Everyone still loves a freebie and if it’s got your company name on it then so much the better – but do check with the organiser first.
- Relax and enjoy it. This might be hard to do if you’ve had to get up at stupid o’clock in the morning or if you’re worrying about a deadline when you know you might be out of the office for 3 hours. Don’t attend if the work is more important, there will always be next time. When you’re out there ‘being your business’ you have to be on top of your game. You can’t do that if you’re stressed. You have nothing to lose when attending networking meetings, so just go and enjoy it.
There are many helpful, friendly and positive business groups out there you can join. One of the best places to start is with your local Chamber of Commerce. If, like us, you’re based in Worthing and Adur you can find the Chamber here and the countywide Sussex Chamber here. Other UK branches are here. We are also members of Worthing Business Circle and other local independent networking groups too – each organisation offers different benefits but we would say that all of them have been positive for us so far. We hope these few points are helpful, and maybe we’ll see you out networking soon! In the meantime, sign up for our newsletter so we can keep you updated with more useful advice like this.