Although many don’t necessarily consider it to be the case – networking IS marketing. That means like everything else within your marketing strategy, it should be planned and measured.
Finding the right network for you
Aside from a quick Google search, there are several specific places where you can search for local networking events. These search engines allow you to drill down to your town or region, date, time and other relevant criteria to help you find the right event to suit you and your business.
Chamber of commerce
“The Chamber of Commerce Network exists to support and connect companies, bringing together firms to build new relationships, share best practice and foster new opportunities.” Your local chamber of commerce will offer a range of services for members and non-members, including networking events. Some of these are open to all, some will be members only, whereas some will be exclusively for directors and business owners.
Customers and connections
Your customers are a great source of knowledge on your hunt for the right networking event. After all, if you are already working with them, they are exactly the type of businesses that you are looking to meet. Ask your customers which networks they would recommend and if they would be willing to take you along as their guest.
Industry bodies and local business groups
Depending on what you do, many industries have professional bodies you may already be a member of. These associations often run networking events at relevant industry trade shows or as stand alone events.
Making the most of your networking
Like any marketing activity, it is important to set your goals and objectives, both overall and for each discreet network or event. Only by defining what you intend to get out of your networking will you know if you have achieved it.
Your goals and objectives may be monetary (1.5x your investment, £X of new business), to source a new supplier or strategic partner, to get sign-ups for an event or event a set number of follow up meetings.
Be clear on your pitch
You might spend a lot of time crafting a blog or tweaking a social post, yet when it comes round to your 60/90 second introduction you decide to wing it. This is your opportunity to speak directly with your audience in a more direct way than virtually any other channel.
Here are a few of our top tips:
- Make sure you are crystal clear on what it is you do – if there is common terminology that will help people ‘get it’ straight away then don’t try and re-invent the wheel
- State your name and the name of your business at the beginning and also again at the end
- Include a story or anecdote to give some context and give your listeners something to remember, particularly if it is funny!
- Have a call to action and make sure the audience know what you would like them to do. This doesn’t have to be an appointment, but could be an invitation to an event, a referral request or a social follow
- Be specific – who are you looking to work with? What sectors, job roles or geographical areas?
- What you wear and how you present yourself is a reflection of your approach to your business – so consider what this says about you
- Others will have taken the time to listen to your pitch, so show them the same consideration and listen to theirs
- Be prepared! It should go without saying to show up on time and take along plenty of business cards as well as any other promotional material you wish to share
It is all too easy when you leave a networking event to pop your business cards away, move on to your next meeting and get on with your day. But networking without following up is a wasted opportunity. Leave yourself or good hour or two after the event (after travelling back to your place of work) to do this, while it is fresh in your mind.
If you have a CRM such as HubSpot or Capsule, you can scan any business business cards you have collected straight into your database by scanning them in with your mobile phone. Just be aware of the rules of your network and how you are authorised to use that data. (Click here for more information on CRM systems).
For those leads that were promising – either as potential customer, supplier, strategic alliance or referral partner – arrange a 1:1 meeting within the following two weeks to enable you to further those relationships.
Networking is an investment. Some require an annual membership of a few hundred pounds, plus each monthly meeting might set you back £20-£30 too. So if you are going to be allocating that kind of cash in your marketing budget (where it belongs), its important to measure the results so you can be sure you are getting a return on investment.
If you are not using Quickbooks, Xero or another accounting package, make sure you keep a record somewhere safe of how much you are spending and how much you have gained as a result – either directly from those in your network or via referral.