Networking isn’t about selling your products or services; it’s about building long-term relationships and making the right connections to grow your business. If done right, networking can be a valuable marketing tool. However, successful networking doesn’t just happen. It takes work. Don’t expect to turn up to a couple of events and achieve a marked increase in customers and revenue. It takes time for other business people to get to know and trust you. They are, after all, risking their reputation by referring you to their network of business associates and customers. But, once that trust is established and mutual business relationships are formed, a host of business opportunities will be open to you.
To increase your chances of networking success, here are 10 top tips:
1. Be selective. Go to events that are appropriate for your business. If you spread yourself too thinly, you won’t get the opportunity to showcase you, your product or your service. You’ll find yourself flitting from one to another but not being ‘present’ enough for others to get to know you. You’ll also be wasting valuable time.
2. Don’t use the hard sell. Sell yourself instead of your product or service. People will buy from other people and provide referrals if there is trust. Demonstrate your trustworthiness by taking the time to get to know other business owners and for them to get to know you. To do this, get regularly seen at different networking events.
3. Be memorable. Don’t bore people with trying to sell. Be interesting. Tell a story instead. Use case studies about how your product or service is helping people. How is your product making their lives easier? How much time does your service save them and how? By how much has their revenue risen since using your service? Answering questions like these via story telling will be both enjoyable and memorable.
4. Sell your unique selling point. What is different about your product or service compared to similar businesses? What problem is it solving for your customers and how is it doing it? (This shouldn’t just be about being cheaper than your competitors.) If you have a special area of expertise, share it.
5. Learn to listen, and listen to learn. There is nothing more off-putting than someone interrupting you or looking bored when you’re speaking. So don’t do it to other people. Don’t just show a slight interest – listen and you may learn something to your advantage.
6. Be passionate. Being enthusiastic and passionate about your product or service will go a long way in persuading someone that you have something of value to sell. It will also help to increase your likeability, which is up there with trust when forging new relationships.
7. Check out the invitation list. Before attending an event check who’s going. Once there, target those you think will be most useful to you, and those you think you can learn from as will make the best use of your time. But remain open minded as other business people could have the potential for contributing to new opportunities you weren’t aware of.
8. Don’t hover. If you spot someone of interest, but they are with a group of people, don’t hang around them. Either politely introduce yourself to the group, or remain at a respectful distance until you find the opportunity to approach them. Don’t interrupt a group discussion to single someone out for your attention – that would be rude.
9. Follow up. So many opportunities are thrown away because people fail to follow up after a networking event. If you have made a connection with someone, or perhaps exchanged business cards, make that follow-up call and invite them for coffee, drinks, dinner, etc. By instigating a one-to-one meeting, you will have a better opportunity for developing a successful business relationship.
10. Help other businesses. Too often, business people network for themselves and their businesses. However, by lending a helping hand to other business people who are experiencing difficulties, you’ll not only curry favour with them but also with other business owners.
As you can see, there’s much more to effective networking than just turning up at events. You have to participate and engage with other business people to build profitable relationships. Share your expertise and help wherever you can, and you will be paid back ten-fold. You might even become the go to business in that particular field. Being engaging and enthusiastic will increase your chances of being remembered by people positioned to provide referrals. Networking can be hard work, but it can also be great fun and a great source for meeting like-minded people. Enjoy it, and look forward to creating new and significant business opportunities.