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Top networking tips for small businesses

In business, it's not who you are, it's who you know. And the best way of getting to know new people that could help your business grow is by attending networking events. But networking and saying the right things don't come easy to everyone. Read our networking tips to learn how to communicate at your best.

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Before the event

1. Find the right event

There are a number of different networking events out there to choose from, including seminars, speed networking, breakfast meetings and business clubs. Events that happen regularly, rather than one off events, are more likely to result in ongoing business relationships. To find networking events near to you, use a website like Findnetworkingevents.com or Google “business networking clubs [your town]”.

2. Plan for your networking event

Feeling nervous? Rest assured there will be plenty of others at any networking event who feel exactly the same way. The best way to combat nerves is to be thoroughly prepared.

Firstly, decide what you want to get out of it. Do you want to make twenty new contacts or one real quality contact? Are you looking for a new supplier, an investor, a mentor or new customers? Your reasons for attending should define how you approach the meeting and help you judge whether it has been a success.

Pro tip: Ask if you can get a list of attendees before the event to see if there are any organisations you want to speak to.

It’s important to look professional, so check that you've you got enough business cards and something to take notes with. Also remember to take a bottle of water in case no refreshments are provided.

3. Create a 30-second pitch for your business

Time is precious at networking meetings, so you should be able to get across the most important information about your business, including your unique selling point, in a short space of time. Practice introducing yourself with family and colleagues beforehand, until you feel confident with your pitch.

4. Take a colleague

If you're really worried about going it alone you could always take a colleague with you, but that doesn't mean you should stick by each other's sides for the whole event. The benefit of taking a colleague is that you can cover twice as much ground, but be careful not to speak to the same people.

At the event

5. Arrive early

Getting to the venue early gives you the opportunity to compose yourself, collect your name badge, and get your business cards and other promotional materials in order. It also gives you the opportunity to strike up conversations early. There is nothing worse than being the last person to turn up to a room full of people already deep in discussion.

6. Be confident

Let's face it; standing in a room full of strangers is always going to be nerve-wracking. It can be quite tempting to stand quietly in the corner and wait for someone to come to you, but for the best results you will need to be proactive. After all, the point of networking is to talk to other people about what you do! Remember to make eye contact with people and, most importantly, smile.

7. Take a genuine interest in others

Once in a conversation, listen to others and show interest. Do not start looking around the room at others trying to spot someone more interesting. This will only get you a reputation of being rude and ignorant. Listen to them exactly how you would like them to listen to you. By listening and helping others, they are more likely to help you. Remember: ‘givers gain'.

8. Remember, networking is about building new contacts

Do not spend lots of time at an event in the company of people you already know. By all means, have a quick chat with them (to build the relationship further), but spend the majority of your time getting to know new contacts.

9. Do not over-sell at a networking event

Networking is NOT selling. Networking is about building relationships, getting to know, like and trust others. By all means, talk about your products/services, as you are there to raise the profile of your business, but sandwich ‘business talk' between ‘small talk'.

10. Bring people standing alone into your conversation

They will be grateful to you for doing so, as you have taken them away from the uncomfortable position of standing on their own. Your kind act could eventually lead you to some new business via the person you helped in their moment of need.

When you arrive at an event, look out for those standing on their own, as they will often be the most open to meeting new people.

11. Do not discount people

Never assume that certain types of business people won't know someone who may be interested in your products or services. Who do they know? Do they know your ‘perfect' contact or lead?

12. Know when to move on

It's the thing that every networker dreads; being stuck with the same person throughout the whole event. If there is potential for a working relationship there, organise to meet at a later date and move on. If there isn't, be polite and exchange business cards, you never know when they might become a useful contact in the future.

13. Take notes

Networking events can be a case of information overload, so you should make short notes at the first available opportunity after the meeting. Try not to make notes whilst you're talking to someone as you should be paying them your undivided attention.

14. Take the opportunity to present

Some networking meetings offer the opportunity to present to the group. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and experience to a room full of potential customers and referrers, but don’t use it as a sales pitch.

After the event

15. Make sure you follow up with your new contacts

Follow up on new contacts as soon as possible with a short email or a quick phone call. If you’ve said you’ll do something, make sure you do it. By not doing so, you will undo all the good work you did at the event.

To summarise, networking is NOT about selling but about building new relationships based on trust. People buy from people that they like and trust, so it is important to be yourself and be genuine at all times. You should think of networking as a long term strategy for building profitable relationships, rather than a quick win.
 
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