Networking is simply about communication and relationship building. We all do it – all the time. We get to know people – their likes and dislikes, dreams and aspirations. We share our time with them, our help, our understanding.
We help them with a problem, ask for their help, share interests, recommend restaurants, books, or a great bloke we know who can make sense of an Ikea flat-pack instruction booklet. We discuss ideas, opinions, events, experiences. It’s part of how we learn, build our life and become who we are – it’s so natural to us, that we don’t even know we’re dong it.
Networking for business is no different in principal: learning, sharing, giving help, asking for help – building a community that benefits from you being a part of and, in turn, benefits you.
The only difference, in practice, is that business networking needs to be more consciously focused on your goals. You need to know what sort of businesses it is beneficial to build what type of relationship with. You may find synergy and be able to collaborate with some businesses – even competitors, but just have a referral relationship with others that you do not share a customer base with.
From handing a business card to someone you meet fleetingly for the first time, to having a one-to-one with someone you believe you could work with – this is networking: communicating; learning; building.
As long as you focus on the needs of your business, you can use networking events to talk to people who you can help and who may be able to help you. In this way you maximise your time and effort. It also dramatically improves your presentation skills as you hone your ability to present your ‘elevator pitch’.
Networking is part of the first step to building relationships with people. As knowledge of each others business and trust in each others abilities grow, the relationship becomes stronger.
We all know that word-of-mouth marketing is the cheapest and most effective way to get new business. If someone we trust says so-and-so is good, we believe them. We would far rather use a source who has been recommended than wade through a directory and take pot luck.
Initially you might be using testimonials from clients to encourage other prospects. Then you may ask your clients to recommend you to other businesses they know. You may do the same for them and before you realise it, you are building a referral relationship.
Through networking, you can make this happen with business partners who are not clients. Eventually, you will develop a more proactive plan for finding referrals for your partners and they for you. But if you end up as each others salesman, is there any point?
Well, the difference is this. If you sell your product to your prospects, you are cold calling. If someone else sells your business to your prospects, they are recommending – it becomes word of mouth. It benefits from the relationship of trust and therefore has more effect.
For more help and information:
BNI – global referral marketing organisation with strong local presence
4N – local networking and social organisation
NRG - connect, collaborate and grow
Business Network South West - monthly networking and seminars
Bath & Bristol Marketing Network – LinkedIn group with seminars and networking events