The Ultimate Guide to Business Networking – and How to Become a Successful Networker

District32 (D32) Co-operative is a Business Network that provides local networking opportunities for small to medium-sized businesses across Perth, Australia. Our aim is to support and promote local businesses.

We believe that Business Networking is a significant and contributing factor towards achieving business growth. From building your brand to acquiring more business referrals, networking gives you greater exposure than you would otherwise have on your own – and at less cost than advertising and marketing. We encourage all business owners to join and participate fully in the networking process to secure increased business opportunities.

To help you on your networking journey, we have produced this ultimate guide to networking, including steps on how to become a better networker.

What is Business Networking?

According to Wikipedia,

“Networking is a socioeconomic business activity by which businesspeople and entrepreneurs meet to form business relationships and to recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities, share information and seek potential partners for ventures.”

In a nutshell, Business Networking is about professional, like-minded business people helping each other to grow their businesses. Networking can and does pay dividends – but you need to work at it. 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. Garnering trust is vital – you need to build trust with other business professionals and that takes time and effort. But, once that trust is established and mutual business relationships are formed, a host of business opportunities will be open to you.

“The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work.” – Robert Kiyosaki

Benefits of Business Networking

Here’s just a sample of what Professional Networking can help you with:

  • Building productive and profitable business relationships
  • Forging strategic alliances and joint ventures
  • Building your brand
  • Extending your reach to promote your brand
  • Gaining increased exposure
  • Acquiring more referrals and recommendations
  • Organically growing revenue and margins
  • Learning the ‘How to-s’ of all aspects of business
  • Adding value to your business community

You’ll meet industry leaders – business professionals who have vast knowledge and experience to share with you.

“If you want to go somewhere, it is best to find someone who has already been there.” – Robert Kiyosaki

Marketing opportunities to be gained from networking are massive. Think about it. When you establish a real connection with just one other business person, you will have the potential to connect to their network of clients and business associates via word of mouth and referrals – which has far-reaching prospects.

In June 2017, the D32 Cooperative launched a 12-week initiative to reach $1M in business referrals to its network. Just 6 weeks in and that target was smashed leading D32 to increase its target to $2m. That’s an extraordinary achievement and one which will benefit its members enormously.

Finding the right Business Network for your business

Not all networks operate in the same way. Some are industry specific such as financial institutes and trade associations, while others (like D32) offer exclusivity of profession which means you don’t have to compete with similar businesses. Also, some networks are structured whereas others are less so.

Do your homework to find one that suits. What is it you’re looking to achieve from networking? What are your business aims and ambitions? What would a network have to provide to help you meet your business needs? What would you bring to add value to the network? Write it down to help keep you focused.

When you find a network that grabs your interest, research it. Your local Chamber of Commerce is a good place to start. Ask around. Get testimonials. Go along to a couple of meetings to suss it out – most networks allow you to attend at least two meetings before you’re asked to join.

You may also find you want to join more than one network. While this can be beneficial, don’t spread yourself too thinly. You may risk being unable to fulfil commitments, which could then jeopardise your reputation and prevent others from trusting you.

Once you join, commit to making the network a success by getting involved.

Potential Barriers to Effective Business Networking

Despite networking being one of the most powerful marketing tools available for small business owners, many still put up barriers – time constraints, previous poor experience, being too shy, and so on. Considering the host of benefits that networking can bring, overcoming obstacles should be on your to-do list.

Examples of potential barriers

“I don’t have time.”

This may seem feasible but it’s based on a false premise. Networking is about investing your time wisely to possibly reach more people than you would from your office. At a networking group, you can get your message to many people within a short time span. Remember, you’ll also have the potential of connecting with their network through personal recommendations and referrals – and word-of-mouth referrals are marketing gold.

“People influence people. Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral influences people more than the best broadcast message. A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising.” – Mark Zuckerberg

Business community forums such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter are also a great way to boost your networking efforts. However, networking via social media can also be time-consuming and shouldn’t be looked on as a substitute for meeting people face-to-face (unless you’re working remotely and it’s not easy to meet people). This method works best if used together with face-to-face networking.

By taking the time to build relationships and connections, you’re positioning you and your company for future referrals and business development opportunities.

“I get nervous meeting new people.”

Having the opportunity to ‘advertise’ to a captive audience of like-minded professionals is a great incentive for conquering anxiety. Remember, other people will feel nervous too. Networking can be a valuable personal development platform – use it to build your confidence and advance yourself.

To help, attend a networking event with a plan in mind. Contact the local organiser and explain your fears. They will be happy to make introductions for you. You can also set yourself small and realistic goals such as aiming to meet at least two people and engage in a five-minute conversation with each. And, if you see someone on their own, introduce yourself. Start with “Hi, I’m Jane, mind if I join you?” Then ask them about their business. A conversation will soon start to flow. You’ll probably be helping them too. With practice, you’ll soon bloom with confidence.

“Networking didn’t work for me.”

Did you give it a chance to work? What were you looking for? – Sales, referrals, or something else? Were you disappointed at not receiving referrals fast enough? Remember, networking isn’t a quick fix; you must put the work in first. Nurturing relationships is the only way to build trust with other business people and receive referrals.

Perhaps it was the wrong type of network for you? Or, maybe you felt the network didn’t live up to its promises? Did you do your homework first?

One of D32’s members who was unhappy with previous “dodgy” experiences of networking, freely admits he “stalked” our network for 12 months before joining!  – his homework and persistence paid off with new clients onboard in a short space of time.

“Networking has nothing to offer my business, so why bother?”

Oh, how wrong this is. Business networking works because of the massive benefits it brings not only to your business but to you too. The saying, ‘two heads are better than one’ is a true reflection of like-minded people getting together in networking. You can learn so much from other business owners – you can learn how to:

  • maximise your business potential
  • use digital solutions for greater efficiencies and monitoring progress
  • extend your reach
  • acquire referrals
  • recruit and retain staff
  • launch a new product or service
  • raise financial backing
  • deal with debt
  • enter a new market
  • grow your customer base
  • lift your profile and increase local awareness

If you haven’t tried networking, why not give it a go? You’ve nothing to lose and much to gain. If you have tried, what were your expectations? Don’t base your decisions on one or two experiences. Take heed of the adage: ‘If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try and try again’. Patience, persistence and perseverance are virtues when networking.

Business networking can have enormous benefits for you and your business, so don’t allow these or other barriers to stop you. Work on solutions. Either find a way around obstacles or work through them. Network to grow your business and expand your horizons.

12 Top Tips for Successful Networking

Before embarking on your journey to becoming a successful networker, it’s worth bearing in mind that successful networking is about forming and nurturing relationships to help each other’s business to succeed. Once those relationships are created, opportunities for growth will follow.

“It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” – Napoleon Hill

To increase your chances of networking success, here are D32’s top tips.

Learn to listen, and listen to learn. Network to listen and learn. Listen to other people’s business experiences and ideas for the future. Listen to learn how they’ve overcome obstacles so that you can perhaps apply solutions to your own business.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen Covey

Don’t be too quick to cut short a conversation so that you can get your point across. Take the time to really listen and understand what the other person is saying.

Also, listen to the needs and concerns of others so that you can find ways to help them. It’s important to be ‘present’. Give someone your full attention – you just might learn something to your advantage, and theirs.

Have a positive attitude. Be confident and positive in your outlook and people will gravitate towards you. Even if you’re experiencing problems, you can still share these and ask for help in a manner that doesn’t display signs of self-pity or defeatism. Rather, seek help with an attitude of belief and confidence that you’ll find solutions.  People will be more eager to help if you’re not giving them a sob story. Having a negative attitude will only serve to drive away potential sources of referrals, whereas a positive attitude will attract people of influence to you.

Don’t be negative about other people either and don’t bad-mouth the network. People aren’t attracted to moaners. If you have valid concerns about something, approach the organisers or the leader of the group – they won’t bite. They might not have noticed and may thank you for pointing it out, or they might be working on solutions to that very problem. Just ask.

Help others. Everyone has a degree of self-interest when networking. But if you appear to be constantly looking out for number one, people will give you a wide berth and you’ll miss out on opportunities. However, if you go with the mindset of ‘How can I help someone today?’ you’ll find your generosity of spirit rewarded.

“If you help enough people get what they want, you will get what you want.” – Zig Ziglar

If you’ve heard someone share a problem and know you can help, offer to help – don’t wait to be asked. If it’s something you can’t help with but you know someone who can; become a broker – networking is about building connections, so connect people with those business professionals who are in the best position to help them.

Make referrals! – Just as you are hoping to receive referrals from networking, others are hoping for the same, so if you find someone worthy refer them.

You could also offer to become a mentor. Imagine if you could support a business owner to get over hurdles and help them to achieve great heights. How satisfying would that be?

Helping someone out doesn’t have to be a major undertaking, it could be a little thing like sending them an article you think will interest them. Being helpful will get you noticed and your chances of acquiring referrals and forging long-term business relationships will increase.

Be authentic. People can spot a fake from a distance, so don’t try to be something you’re not. It’s hard to sustain a fake persona so always be yourself. If your business isn’t doing so good, don’t pretend otherwise. If you’ve made mistakes own up – your mistake could help prevent others making the same one. If you need help, ask. If, on the other hand, your business is flourishing, don’t be a show-off about it. Show some humility.

Always be honest and transparent and remain true to what you and your brand represent.

For example, D32 recently produced an article about Scottish brewery, BrewDog. The founders are confident, extrovert, outrageous and irreverent – one of them dressed up as The Queen for a promotional video – and each still received an MBE! The point is, is that’s who they are. Although their personal brand isn’t for everyone – and nor should it be – the guys have remained authentic to themselves and to their brand. (Incidentally, the guys were only 24 years of age when they started the business and it’s now worth £1b just 10 years later.)

It’s easy to imagine any networking event being a lively affair with these guys around!

Be enthusiastic. Sharing your enthusiasm and passion about your product or service will attract attention. Sure, you can tell people about how great your product is by just ticking the boxes, but conveying real enthusiasm will attract and persuade more readily than words alone. People can’t help but be caught up by someone’s enthusiasm about a great product or service. So, share it. Your passion will also increase your likeability which is up there with trust when forging new relationships.

Be mindful, though. Your enthusiasm might not be shared, particularly if your business is more specialised and not easily understood by others.

Don’t use the hard sell. If you network to ‘sell’ you will lose out. Sell yourself instead of your product or service. People buy from other people and provide referrals only if there is respect and trust. Demonstrate your trustworthiness by taking the time to get to know other business owners and for them to get to know you. Nurture relationships first and foremost. Being a pushy salesperson will push people away, not pull them in.

“If people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you they’ll do business with you.” – Zig Ziglar

Similarly, don’t foist your business cards on everyone you meet – they’re likely to end in the bin. Offer them only when someone shows an interest in you and your business. If you’ve received a business card, follow up on it – you never know where it might lead you.

Be memorable. Don’t bore people with a tired sales pitch. Be interesting. Tell a story instead. Use case studies that demonstrate 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 in what way? By how much has their revenue risen since using your service? Answering questions like these via story telling will be both enjoyable and memorable.

Prepare and rehearse your pitch so that when you’re introduced, you don’t waffle or go off on a tangent. Answer questions succinctly and to the point. Don’t be afraid to show a little vulnerability either – after telling the group about your business objectives, say why you need help from the network. People will respond with positivity and helpful suggestions. And, you will be remembered for doing this.

If you want to stand out, always be professional, helpful and trustworthy. Don’t be remembered for the wrong reasons, that is; waffling, moaning or being negative.

Be committed. When you find the right network for you, commit to making that network a success.

Help your network to help you.

Become actively involved.

Attend regularly.

Help the organisers.

Help organise events.

Help other business owners.

Become a mentor if you have sound knowledge to pass on.

Make referrals.

Participating fully in this manner will help build your credibility and to establish yourself as a go-to person for people who want advice. Other business people will be impressed by your level of commitment and will seek you out to do business or make referrals.

If you’re a local business owner, you can elevate your status and reputation within your network by organising and participating in local community events and supporting local charities. Being visible in and out of the network helps your network to form an impression of who you are and what you represent. By demonstrating your value, others will be more trustful which will make them keener to collaborate with you.

Create an impression. First impressions count. Be courteous. Dress appropriately. Be on time. Be respectful – don’t read your texts while someone is giving their pitch or you’re in a conversation. Don’t ever interrupt – unless there’s a fire! How do you feel when you’re speaking with someone and they look disinterested or bored or keep interrupting you? Not so good, eh?

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.

Be confident. But, beware of being over-confident which can be interpreted as arrogance. Make sure you’re on the right side of the line. Don’t try to oversell yourself – be honest about you and your business.

Have fun. Business networking doesn’t (and shouldn’t) need to be boring just because it’s about business. Yes, business is serious. But we all need to have some fun too. The saying ‘never mix business with pleasure’ is far from the reality of what networking is about; it’s about achieving a healthy balance between the two. It does serve as a warning, however – be careful of those networking events that take place in bars; you might have too much fun and not do enough business!

At D32, we realise how important it is for people to have fun at our meetings and events and always try to inject fun into the proceedings. If your networking group doesn’t have an element of fun, consider if it’s the right group for you.

Give encouragement. Not everyone is confident in business. If you see someone who is struggling to mingle or sitting alone, introduce yourself. Encourage them to meet others. In doing so, you may help to build their confidence. Also, be on the lookout for anyone who isn’t their usual self or looking a bit sad and offer a kind word of encouragement. You don’t know what their personal circumstances are, so always be ready to help.

“The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” – Keith Ferrazzi

If someone’s business isn’t doing so well, offer to help them to work on solutions. Managing a business can be a lonely affair; without words of encouragement, business owners might become despondent and even be on the verge of giving up. Your support just might help someone to save their business.

Follow up. This stage in the networking process, although often ignored, is essential for success. So many opportunities are thrown away because people fail to follow up after a networking event. If you’ve made a connection with someone, or perhaps exchanged business cards, make that follow-up call and invite them for coffee and a chat.

When away from a business environment, it can be easier to relax and engage in conversation. By initiating a one-to-one meeting, you’ll increase your chances of forging a successful business relationship or entering into a profitable joint venture.

Never refuse an invitation to a follow-up meeting – not only is this impolite, you might miss a fantastic business opportunity.

Summary

There’s no doubt that business networking can have a significant impact on business development and growth. Increased referrals, collaborative working, brand building, joint ventures, are but a few of the benefits that networking can bring.

“Since being part of District32 we’ve been exposed to numerous new clients, dynamic entrepreneurs and amazing opportunities – that’s not to mention having access to some of the most exciting business people in Perth. I’m loving the journey and can only see a bright future for my company, for District32 and for the community in general.” (Member testimonial)

However, results don’t miraculously happen. If you’re serious about growing your business through networking, you need to contribute fully to the networking process. Just as your business won’t grow without hard graft, networking won’t pay dividends without serious effort. Like everything that’s worthwhile, the more you put it, the more you get out.

“A really important part of networking is actually about what you bring to the table – not just what you want to get out of it. Contribution is a big part of networking success.” – Gina Romero

If you’ve had poor networking experiences, it can put you off trying again, but perseverance can pay off – remember the D32 member we talked about earlier? While we don’t advocate ‘stalking’ a network for 12 months, it took this length of time for this business professional to feel confident in joining D32. Do your homework. Try different types to find one that fits your needs.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” – African Proverb

Hopefully, this guide will enhance your networking experience and help you to network with confidence. More importantly, to help you grow your business.

 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_networking

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAdCHGc4-AE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3arUqtNDJ0

District32.com.au