Top 10 Tips Guide to Local Business Networking Success
OK, so now you have your own business. You love your product or service and are desperate to share your love, but you’ll need to get word around about your business before you can hope to attract some customers or clients. One way to get your business known in your area is through local business networking groups. I mean actual, real world, face-to-face meetings! Social media is another (great) ballgame, but many of the same principles apply there too.
Here’s what I wished I had known before I started out at networking meetings. These tips come from my experience and not from a sales book!
- Be clear about your aim at a meeting.
Think about what you want to achieve at the meeting. To get a new client from a one off meeting is a HUGE ask. To meet interesting people with whom you can build long lasting business relationships is perfectly possible.
2. Choose the right groups and be consistent
Choose your networking groups carefully. Pick your group according to the format, style, atmosphere, group leader, types of businesses of the group, but also think about the referral section of the group meeting — usually at the end of the meeting — where members will give referrals for others’ products and services — a great group will have a great list of referrals!
Be loyal and support your chosen networking groups on a regular basis. Do this, and you will get to know the core members really well — both as people and their businesses.
Put across a consistent message. Others may not remember the details of your one minute pitch the first or second time, but give a consistent few key points over a few months and they will start asking more details about your services. This way you will build up trust and once you start providing services or products to some of the group’s members, you can hope to get the vital recommendations and referrals which help your business grow.
3. Go into the meeting with a happy, positive attitude
Be cheerful and enthusiastic about your own business, but more importantly about your fellow attendees. Don’t be afraid to have a laugh, joke or a smile. People prefer to work with happy people & LOVE hearing about successes!
4. Listen and be curious
This is probably the most important point. I rarely end up speaking about my own business at networking meetings. That boring stuff can wait for later! For me, I find it genuinely fascinating to hear why people quit their jobs to set up their own business — what they love about them, how do they market themselves or differentiate themselves, any new trends in their line of business, where they want the business to go and most importantly any difficult areas they have. As soon as they mention a problem area, get your brain into gear to see if you can help or recommend someone to solve their problems. Listening, then genuinely trying to help others will not only please them and make you feel good, chances are your help will be reciprocated later.
5. Be a good networker
What do I mean by this? I mean to help others and always be on the look out for opportunities for your colleagues. Engage your brain to put people together from different groups or walks of life. You never know where it could lead. Remember to thank and recommend others publicly if they do a good job for you at the meetings, on Twitter or on Facebook. These endorsements are invaluable for building each other’s businesses.
Also — good networkers also actually use & appreciate the services and products offered by their fellow group members. If they had a good experience, you can be sure they will pass the word on about you.
6. Be open minded
Be open minded when you talk to people. Don’t dismiss fledgling businesses as not having enough money to pay for your services, or if they are in a business that does not seem to be immediately very interesting to you. Challenge yourself to ask questions to find something of interest about their business! Try to come away from your meeting by knowing something new that you never knew before.
If you really can’t find anything in common on the business front, try asking more general questions — eg where they live, their family, their interests, holidays etc and surely you will find some common ground! Many of my business leads have come as a result of me recommending the best local restaurants or playgrounds for kids! If nothing else, you’re bound to make some new friends and learn something interesting and new!
You also never know when they might need you in the future or have a friend or neighbour who they could refer to you once you have created a helpful, favourable impression of yourself.
7. Be generous
Especially early on in your networking, before you have had the benefit of any referrals or recommendations, it is often worth considering to offer your services or products at a discount or for free as a one off. We sorted out a personal tax nightmare for a member of one group by calling up the Revenue for an hour, for nothing more than a bottle of wine, but which actually led to a friendship & business relationship plus several referrals. Similarly, we have done work for some great local voluntary or charity groups which have resulted in referrals and more business.
8. Follow up
After listening and being curious, this is probably the next most important tip. There is no point going to networking meetings unless you follow up!
No matter how busy I am, I always try to follow up new contacts by email within 24 hours. I always write personal emails and take my time over them — it can take up to 2 hours some evenings depending on how many people I want to contact and the detail I want to include. BUT it is so worth spending the time on this
a. If you didn’t get a chance to speak directly to someone at the meeting but they mentioned something of interest in their 1 minute pitch, then comment on that in your email. But be genuine and honest! Always check their website or Linked In profile or Twitter feed to see if there is anything on there you could additionally remark on.
b. If you did speak personally with someone, remember to write down everything you can remember — eg if you talked about the details of their business, the name of their kids, which part of the town they live in. Little details are essential. By remembering them, it shows that you genuinely did listen. I usually scribble some notes down during the meeting then take 30 minutes afterwards to have a coffee, make sense of these scribbles and write a quick list of what I am going to put in my email to each person that evening.
c. As I said, I rarely speak about accountancy or bookkeeping at networking meetings, but if someone did have a particular issue then this is your chance to bring it up in your email and suggest a meeting or a solution. Be bold and positive by putting forward some firm dates within the next week to meet up — strike while the iron is hot!
d. If my business was never mentioned during our conversations, I often add a couple of lines to the end of my email asking if they needed any help or advice, and if they did, we would be happy to meet for a quick, informal chat over coffee for no cost. It is very cheesy and seems like a bit of an afterthought PS, but amazingly it has brought in quite a few unexpected meetings, which in turn generated new business for us.
e. Of course, don’t forget to email the people you already know from the networking meeting, especially if you just want to say “well done” to someone on their successes
9. Your follow up meeting itself
Once you have arranged a meeting time for your one-to-one meeting, don’t let yourself down by lack of research or thinking. Be Prepared! Try to anticipate the questions you could be asked.
Agree with the other person what you are going to talk about so that you don’t waste time. Brainstorm ideas before the meeting.
Agree on an action plan from both parties — either a further meeting or information exchange, plus a fee quote to agree upon. And then hopefully get down to business!
10. Be patient
Here is one final tip that is essential — be patient! Building relationships and trust takes time.
Good luck and enjoy your networking!