Business Networking for Entrepreneurs

The importance and value of business networking cannot be underestimated. Particularly when you are starting your business and want to increase awareness of your brand and services, it should form a key part of your marketing strategy.  I remember when I started my business after 10 years in the corporate world and had to embark on business networking, it felt exciting but also daunting at the same time! I researched and prepared and have now been to countless events and wanted to share my tips to ensure your success. This guide covers:

  • Why are networking events important?
  • How to network like a pro!
  • How often to network?
  • Gender differences to consider in networking
  • Networking groups

Why are networking events important?

Networking is fundamental to business growth and success because it allows entrepreneurs to connect with existing and potential customers to advertise their products and services. This is an opportunity to meet new people, to form relationships that could lead to strategic alliances or joint ventures. When done with focus and strategy, networking could contribute as much as 47% of referrals to your business (Source: BNI, 2012)

How to network like a pro!

Prepare before the event – find out who will be attending by asking the organiser. Research individuals that you want to connect with. Most networking event operate a 60 second elevator pitch where you tell the group what you do and what type of referrals you are looking for, prepare this and PRACTICE! Some people take this along on a piece of paper to read but I think that looks unnatural and the way we speak is not the same as when we write and read! There is lots of material online and books on the perfect elevator pitch, there is no excuse not to prepare something that feels natural to you.

Have the tools – your business cards should be high quality. Avoid the free ones that you can have printed. Flyers, samples of your work, either on print or something you can show on your smart phone/ tablet, etc will all be essential

Act as a host not a guest – go to the event with the attitude of being proactive. Take the initiative to introduce yourself to people, ask questions, smile, be friendly and adopt the demeanour of a host by showing a genuine interest in others. Be visible, now is not the time to be a wall flower!

Follow up – post the event follow up potential contacts with an email, no later than one week after the event. Connect with them on social media. Start off by saying how great it was to meet them at the event and that it would be good to stay in touch. If you feel that you can help a contact you have met, arrange a time to get together. This will help you build up your credibility with new contacts

How often to network?

Some groups meet weekly, others monthly. Research has suggested that, not surprisingly, there is a linear relationship between how much time you spend networking and the positive impact this has on your business growing, i.e. the more you network the quicker your business s grows. The average entrepreneur spends 6.5 hours a week networking – if you want to be average that’s the number you need to bear in mind. Clearly, if you don’t want to be average you need to consider a strategy that involves more networking,  8 hours a week seems to be the ideal amount of time. (Source: Ivan Misner, Business Networking & Sex: Not what You Think)

Gender differences to consider when networking 

Ivan Misner, in his book ‘Business Networking & Sex: Not What You Think’ surveyed nearly 12,000 people who are members of his BNI network globally. This research and the compiling of the findings took over five years and it is the largest research ever conducted into business networking.  The findings confirmed that when it comes to business networking men and women operate very differently.

This is important because if you want to build up constructive relationships you need to remember how each gender communicates and adopt an approach that will ensure you are setting yourself up for success. His research found that women in business networking events are relationship focused. They like the small talk to build up rapport and then move onto talking about business. Men are transactional and business focused. They like to focus immediately on business, numbers, what types of referral they are looking for and the relationship is second. This can be to their detriment as networking is about building relationships then asking for business not the other way round! So, men reading this remember the small talk; build up relationships by asking non business questions and get to know the person then move onto business – it may not feel as natural to you but it will pay off in the long term.

The findings also found that women did not like to ask for referrals or want to be pushy, whilst this came naturally to men. Tip for women, building relationships IS important but don’t hold back in making it clear what you are looking for in referrals and ask for them. This is your business and its growth depends on you making the most of networking, building relationships and asking for what you need!

Now that you have read this and know what you need to do, get out there! The following are a few networking groups that are popular in the UK and you may wish to look into further.

Networking Groups 

 

By Rupinder Kaur. Rupinder is a Business and Career Coach working with women in business either in corporates or entrepreneurs who are frustrated that their career or business is not growing at the same rate as their ambition. She helps them achieve this progress quicker than if they were working alone, by identifying the current issues that are restricting their development and the solutions that will overcome them. For more info visit: