How important to you is networking for your business? Like any cross section of society, there will be entrepreneurs among you who love to network and those who can’t see the benefit. I hope to appeal to both sets today with an insight into why I like to network and think it’s vital for your business. In addition, I want to provide some key things to look for from your network.
Connection and collaboration
For me, networking is all about connecting authentically – by which I mean without an agenda. It is also an opportunity to collaborate with other people from inside and outside my own sector. Whether you love it or loathe it, networking is a vital part of building your business.
Online or face to face?
Whilst there is certainly a place for online networking via social media, for me, the face to face aspect is hard to replace entirely. I love the fact that you can get to know your potential tribe in advance via following them on social media and once you know each other you can share and comment (if relevant) and boost each other’s visibility.
Whether you feel more comfortable behind a keyboard or face to face the key things to remember are:
- Be friendly to everyone you meet
- Get to know the person you’re connecting with (no generic approaches please) and do your research
- Be yourself
- Think about what you want to achieve
- Be proactive – networking needs you to approach others
- Use your time wisely – where can you get/give most value?
- Keep it simple!
Where to find networking for your business
The first thing to remember is that networking can happen anywhere and can be formal or informal. When people ask what I do and I tell them I’m a coach who predominantly helps women navigate through their career/business I often get an “oh, maybe you could help me?”. I always say yes – a) because I am sure I can and b) it opens up the conversation. Often these conversations don’t lead to the person booking on to my programme but that’s OK because it does other things:
- Raises my visibility (so people know who I am)
- Might lead to a recommendation
- Could result in future business from them/someone else
- Provides value to them
- Is almost always a learning opportunity for me
If I don’t get asked what I do, I try and add value to every conversation I have. Not for my own benefit necessarily but because it’s a nice thing to do. One of my business (and personal) values is to share my knowledge for free in many cases. I really value that in other business owners and coaches. I feel that it’s important for people to get to know you, to build trust and to see your authenticity. Every conversation is an opportunity to demonstrate these traits.
What about formal networking?
You only need to search networking events in your local area to see how many there are…but which to choose? I would say you need to be self-aware in what kind of networking works best for you and go with your gut. Think about what is important to you, how you like to talk with others, what you want to gain, how much you want to spend and how often you want to meet for starters.
I would recommend going along to some networking events and see how you feel about the people who attend. I have been to some that have had great speakers, workshops and events but where no-one talks to you. I’ve been to others where I have been bombarded with sales pitches. It’s why I joined Drive The Network because they were unique.
Here are my criteria for a formal networking group (yours will likely be different):
- Be on a Tues/Thurs between 0930-1430 or a Friday 0930-1130
- Small to medium so I can talk to everyone within the time
- Focus on collaboration rather than competition i.e. don’t restrict people by sector/role
- Share my values
- Hold interesting events which are valuable to me
- Allow me to share my knowledge informally and formally (e.g. via workshops/webinars etc)
When I first started out the cost of the formal networking groups near me seemed prohibitive and I couldn’t see the value. However, as I have grown my business and can afford more they have become my top priority. Now I can see that the cost of a year of networking, if I get one client from it or if I learn something which allows me to grow my business, is a fair price to pay.
If you can look for opportunities to talk about what you do and provide value to others, you will see the power of networking for your business.