A fantastic way to get you and your business known, at little financial cost, is to network with other professionals. Whether you’re a small business operating on a shoe-string budget, or an SME looking to increase awareness and extend your marketing reach, networking can help you to grow your business. Of course, you must put the work in to make networking work to your advantage. Just as with any marketing method, only a concerted effort will ensure success.
Don’t Look for a Quick Fix
When you first embark on networking, it may appear that you’re not getting anywhere and you may be asking: “Where are the referrals I was expecting?” “Where are the personal recommendations?” “Why am I not progressing with my business?” The truth may be that;
- you haven’t committed enough time and effort
- you may be attending the wrong type of networking group for your business needs
- you haven’t quite learned the skills of networking
- other business owners don’t quite trust you yet
It may even be a combination of these or something else. The important thing is to recognise why something isn’t working and find the solution. Networking isn’t a quick fix; it’s about developing trust and building long-term relationships with other professionals for mutual benefit which takes time.
Target an Appropriate Network
Do some homework. What do you want to achieve? What is your main aim for your business? When you know what you want, find a group that matches your aspirations. Also, consider joining more than one group – two three should suffice. Don’t spread yourself too thinly or you’ll end up being unable to fulfil commitments, which will prevent business owners from trusting you.
Like other marketing techniques, go where your target audience is. For instance, if you want to increase your presence in your community, seek out a local network where you’ll find professionals with relevant expertise. You may prefer to join a trade, technical or environmental group to fit with your particular interests. There are also organised groups that offer exclusivity of profession where you don’t have to compete with other members. Once you’ve made an informed choice, stick with it, and you should see results.
Learn the Ropes
Although most networks offer similar formats, some differ in their rules and expectations for members. Check these out and follow them to be seen in a favourable light. When you’re invited to give your elevator speech or present to the group, be concise and don’t waffle. You don’t want to bore people with how utterly brilliant your business is (even if it is!) as this can seem arrogant and may antagonise your fellow professionals. Rather, be confident and engaging and share your ambitions. People gravitate towards confident, outward-looking people.
However, if you need help, don’t be shy about asking for it; after all, supporting businesses to succeed is the primary role of networking groups. Having a positive attitude even while asking for help will invite a positive response. Never try to sell at a networking meeting. Instead, tell people about your business and share the benefits it brings to your customers.
Be Prepared to Help Others
Networking wouldn’t be a successful marketing tool if everyone went only to receive help and not give it. Always seek opportunities to help others. Your helpful attitude will attract the attention of others in the group, and they will be eager to help you. If you have set up a follow-up meeting, always follow through. Being true to your word will secure your integrity, build trust and help you to forge long-term relationships. If you don’t follow through, others will distrust your commitment and give you a wide berth. The adage, ‘give and you will receive’ is a real concept in networking. Share your expertise and knowledge freely, and others will reciprocate.
Be Committed to Succeed
Whatever the overall aim for your business, you must commit to the networking process and others if you want to achieve success. Regular attendance is a given and is expected of everyone; else the whole process would collapse. Many smaller networking groups have met their demise through lack of input, so you will be required to do your part to keep the team alive.
People need to see your commitment before trusting you. If you just flit from one group to another without contributing, people will notice and be put off supporting you. Help the group to thrive – participate at special community events, especially if you want to increase your presence in your local community. People will recognise and reward your commitment with those much-wanted referrals and recommendations.
If you put in the time and effort networking will work for you. There is a variety of networking groups so choose which one(s) best fits your business needs and commit to making it work for you. Sometimes there are membership fees, but these are small when considering your overall marketing budget. Consider the tremendous marketing potential if business professionals make referrals and recommendations to their personal customers and connections on your behalf – your reach could be massive. And, unlike other marketing methods which focus only on sales and revenues, you will be joining a network of professionals who will deliver long-term support, thereby increasing your chances of achieving longevity for your business. Networking works if you commit concerted time and effort, garner trust, and help others.