I recently wrote a blog post about the types of marketing tactics small businesses can use. One of those is networking. Yes, networking is a marketing tactic. Done well, it can have a tangible impact on your business. I started networking as soon as I set up my business, and I have to say that a large proportion of my business has come through this tactic. So, now I’ve convinced you that you should be doing it too, how do you get started?
Research networking events
There are any number of networking events happening in your area. What you need to do is research and find the ones that will be the best for you. How can you do that?
- Search Eventbrite. This is a massive directory of all sorts of events. What’s great about the site is that you can search for events near you by setting your location and how far you want to travel. You can further refine by the type of event, and whether you’re prepared to pay for it. Once you’ve done the search, it’s just a case of finding the events that are right for you and registering for them.
- Have you checked out the event page on your local chamber website? Chambers of commerce normally organise events for their members, but some are available to non-members. Attending the events not only provide a networking opportunity, but they also give you an insight into whether being a member of the chamber is right for you.
- Asking for recommendations is a great way to find out which networking events you should attend. A simple way to do this is to post on social media, particularly in any groups you’re in on Facebook or LinkedIn. There will be people from your local area who will be able to tell you about events they’ve attended. And, you’re already networking with them in that group, so why not go meet them in person?
Book a selection
So, now you know where to look for networking events, the next thing on the list is to actually book your place on a few. Now, I know some people who like to do all their networking in one week so that they can then follow up and book meetings in the two weeks after. Figure out how much time you want to allocate and book events accordingly.
Before you hit the register button, answer these two questions:
- Does the event meet your business objectives?
- Will there be people there who are relevant to your business?
If the answer is ‘yes’, then grab your spot!
Research the other attendees
This is a great thing to do in advance of attending a networking event. It will give you the opportunity to make a target list of people you want to speak with. People who are, perhaps, in a similar type of business to yours, or those who are complementary to what you do. Here are a few things you can do to help you:
- Contact the organisers and ask if there is a list of attendees you can access.
- Research attendees on Twitter and follow them before the event. Tweet them and let them know you’re going to be there and look forward to chatting.
- Look at attendees’ websites. Do you have anything in common? Have they announced something new or won an award? All these tidbits will be conversation starters when you do meet.
Two ears, one mouth
We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listening is the best way to connect with people. This is something that my husband told me and something he thinks all good sales people know. When you’re at the networking event, take the time to listen to people. If you’ve done your research up front, then you’ll have questions that you can ask them. Showing an interest is important to understanding how you can build a relationship with that person and whether there is a way for you to work together. Remember to swap business cards and agree next actions.
It’s all in the follow-up
A friend of mine always says that networking happens after the event you’ve been to. That means you need to follow up on any actions you agreed and then figure out how to build your relationship. So, once you get back from the event, remember to send a follow-up email to the people you’ve spoken with. Include any information you agreed you would send them. It’s a good idea to send a personalised LinkedIn connection request as well. The last thing you should do is work out whether you should have a meeting with any of the people you met. What would you want to get out of it, and more importantly, what would the other person get out of it? We’re all so busy that knowing what’s in it for us is important.
Networking is part and parcel of being a small business owner. It can and should be part of your marketing plan. If you know your objectives for networking and approach it with them in mind, you’ll find yourself not only enjoying it, but you’ll also make useful business connections along the way.
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Also published on Medium.