How to network and help your business grow

Networking is one of the most targeted and cost-effective ways of marketing your company, making useful contacts and generating sales leads. Think about it: No expensive hit-or-miss ad campaigns; no travelling around for days on end, calling on disinterested ‘potential’ customers.

Taking advantage of business networking enables you to meet large numbers of like-minded businesspeople in one place, at one time. Use these tips to get the best out of your networking opportunities.

1. Be prepared

Before you go to a networking event, have a clear idea of what you want to get out of it. Are you looking for new customers? A supplier? A potential investor, perhaps? Knowing this will help you mentally prepare for the kinds of things you need to say, the questions you should ask, or the information that you should have available – for example, product price list, company prospectus, etc. In some cases you might even want to create and rehearse a short sales pitch to use if the opportunity arises.

2. Understand that networking is a process

Too many people regard business networking as a one-off activity which will reap immediate rewards. This is unrealistic; just as most friendships and romantic relationships take time to develop, so do business ones. Obviously there are exceptions, but if you don’t immediately find the right customer, partner or supplier, don’t be disheartened. Those who know how to network don’t simply dish out business cards willy-nilly and then sit back and expect the phone to ring. Be prepared to go back several times, either meeting the same people and deepening relationships, or encountering others who may be better matched to your needs.

3. Don’t come on too strong

Have you ever come across a pushy salesman (of the kind associated with insurance or real estate) who was your ‘best friend’ within two minutes of meeting you and trying hard to sell you something within five minutes? Chances are, not long after that you were making your excuses and heading for the door! Don’t be that salesman when you’re networking; rather take a softly-softly approach and concentrate more on building the relationship than scaring the other person off. Part of the skill of business networking is knowing when it’s time for the hard-sell and when not.

4. Be interested

Be ‘interested’ rather than ‘interesting’. Nobody likes an ‘I specialist’ who has seen it all, done it all and knows it all. Far better to do more listening than talking in order to find out about the other person, what they do and how they may be able to add value to your life. Showing genuine interest in people makes them feel good about themselves and liked – and, in return, they’ll like you.

5. Follow up

While you should avoid coming on too strong, that doesn’t negate the need for proper follow-up. According to The Smart Networker, an American website dedicated to networking, 95% of people fail to follow up after an event. If you’ve promised to ‘get back’ to someone you’ve met, do it promptly and efficiently; after all, you’re trying to promote your business and give a professional impression. A tip here: to ensure you do what you promised, make small notes about who you’ve met and what you’ve agreed to do – either at the time of the event or the next day when it’s still fresh in your mind. Even if you haven’t promised anything specific, people who seem ‘promising’ may be worth a follow up phone call or an e-mail saying “nice to meet you”.

6. Take the initiative

If you haven’t got the results you hoped for from networking, don’t despair. Why not take the initiative and organise networking events of your own, inviting only the best of the ‘promising’ people you’ve met previously? If you can control the environment and cut out those who are irrelevant to your purposes, the chances of striking up fruitful relationships are far better. Special occasions can be an ideal opportunity to suggest a get together to celebrate; for example, prior to the Christmas holidays or to mark Women’s Day.