A new year brings business owners renewed determination to succeed and exciting plans for goals and growth.
A big part of growing your business is the people who know what you do and can recommend you to others. How do you find those people? Networking!
There’s events across the region every week, from dedicated networking organisations like Your Partnerships and WiRE, to local Chambers of Commerce, other business groups and one-off events. You’ll find plenty listed on Eventbrite, or simply search Google for ‘networking events [your local area]’.
If you want to have a go but you’re new to networking or nervous of it, here’s some of my top tips:
Not all networking events are the same. Ask friends and colleagues what events they go to, who else goes, and what the format is. Think about the kind of people you want to meet, and ask around to find the events they’re likely to attend. You might find them at workshops or exhibitions, rather than ‘official’ networking events – it all counts! Any time you meet people, find out about them and tell them about you, that’s networking.
To find out more about an event before you book a place, contact the organiser. They want attendees to be comfortable, so ask them whatever you need to – from who goes, to the dress code.
If you’d feel reassured by a friendly face, ask a friend or colleague to go with you. Make sure it’s the kind of event they’d benefit from, too.
Have a quick description of your business ready to share (often known as an ‘elevator pitch’). Don’t worry about memorising it word-perfect, it’s better to speak naturally than robotically repeat it. Having a couple of quick notes is OK, writing an essay is not. Don’t go into details – give an outline and interested people can ask you for more info. Example: “I’m Lisa and I own Lisa’s Beauty Salon on the High Street. I do all the usual services, and my speciality is LVL lashes.”
If you have business cards, take them with you.
Arrive early. It’s easier to get into conversations when there’s just a handful of people in the room, rather than later on when there’s 20+ all already talking to each other.
Remember: they’re just regular people, and they’ve all been the new person in the room at some point.
It’s OK to be nervous. Keep breathing. Look for friendly faces (event organisers are always friendly types). Don’t be afraid to tell one of those friendly faces that you’re nervous. Nip to the loo for a quick break if it starts to get overwhelming.
If you asked a friend or colleague to go with you, don’t spend the whole event talking to just them and no-one else.
Don’t worry if you forget someone’s name, just say “sorry, I forgot your name”. Honestly, it’ll be fine. No-one will laugh, I promise.
Don’t be afraid to approach people and say hello. You’re supposed to strike up conversations with strangers at these things! If you’re nervous of breaking into a group, hang out by the coffee station or the bar – either other nervous people will be hanging out there too, or you can say hello to someone who comes up to get a drink.
The simplest questions can be the best – especially if you’re meeting someone for the first time. Try “what’s your business?” or “have you been to this event before?”
If you took business cards with you, don’t push them in the hand of everyone you meet. Wait for them to ask “have you got a card?” If you haven’t, don’t worry – ask for theirs and agree you’ll contact them after the event.
Don’t expect to come away with a new client; networking is a slow burn thing. Go to the same event a few times, and get to know people well. Describe your business clearly and simply, to give them the best chance of understanding and remembering it. The network you’re building isn’t just the people you meet – it’s all the other people they know, too.
Once you get back to the office, here’s your next 3 tasks:
1) Mention the event on social media and tag anyone you can remember – particularly the organiser.
2) If someone’s given you their business card, drop them an email to say ‘hello, nice to meet you today’.
3) Book your next networking event!
If these tips aren’t quite enough to get you out there, join my workshop How To Overcome Your Fear of Networking.
In small groups, we’ll practice describing our businesses for those dreaded elevator pitches. Then we’ll put that practice into action with a ‘pretend networking’ session. All practice, no pressure – promise!
It’s 23 January, at The Moorland Garden Hotel near Yelverton, Devon. Click here to book your place.