If you’re the owner of a small business, you may use the latest digital technology to help you grow your business. You may also network using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn to link up with like-minded people. While all of this is great, have you stopped to think about how many face-to-face network meetings you have with people in the real world?
Digital technology has revolutionised the way we work. We can connect with hundreds, if not thousands of other people at the press of a button. We can use Skype for video calls and conference calls which means we don’t have to meet people face-to-face to conduct our business. When you consider that word-of-mouth is still at the top for increasing referrals, repeat custom, and creating brand loyalty, it’s no wonder that networking is also regarded as one of the most effective methods of marketing your company. Other business owners are a great source for recommending your business.
There are various networking meetings and events throughout the year, and many held at times to fit around working hours. Every type of business is covered, so you’re sure to find something that suits. Even if you’re shy in front of strangers, there are ways to combat this. You could ask a friend along for moral support; you could approach the facilitator by phone and ask them to look out for you so that they can introduce you to others; you could take confidence-building or communication classes; or, you can move out of your comfort zone and learn by doing. Whichever method you use to help you, attending networking meetings will pay off when you start to glean the benefits.
Of course, benefits don’t magically appear. There isn’t a quick fix. You have to learn the ropes of good networking and be prepared for your hard work to pay dividends in the long term. Networking is more about building long-term relationships and networks with like-minded business people than it is about getting a quick sale.
Here are a few basic tips:
• Turn up regularly so that people can get to know and trust you.
• Be warm and friendly.
• Be polite. Don’t interrupt when someone is speaking.
• Look interested. Use positive body language and don’t fidget with your phone.
• Don’t try to sell your product or services. Sell the benefits.
• Hand out your business card only if it’s appropriate. Don’t just turn up and dish your cards out.
• Listen attentively to other people and learn what they have to offer.
• Demonstrate that you’re trustworthy and reliable.
• Always offer to help others – even before yourself. Your philanthropy will get you noticed.
Networking doesn’t just happen at network meetings and events either. You could be at a conference or training course or even having coffee with friends. Use every opportunity to tell people about the benefits your business has to offer and always have your business cards to hand. Deals have been done many times through information which is passed on casually.
Getting out into the real world and meeting people face-to-face allows you to make judgements about their integrity more accurately than an online meeting. For instance, you can more easily read their facial expressions, body language, level of interest and so forth, and likewise regarding them making judgements about you. It’s worthwhile remembering that networking gives you the opportunity to market one-to-many. For each connection you make with someone at a networking event, you’re reaching their networks too, so it’s worth the effort. While online networking has its place, good old fashioned face-to-face networking is more powerful. It takes time and patience, but you’ll reap the rewards in the long run