Does the thought of attending a networking event fill you with excitement or dread? Do you look forward to events as a chance to meet new people and promote your business, or put it in your diary and then find an excuse not to go?
Not everyone loves networking but for a small business I see it as an invaluable way to raise your profile and get yourself known locally.
Here are the main benefits I have gained from networking locally:
- New Business and Referrals– probably the most obvious benefit in financial terms but it takes time. Don’t expect to turn up a couple of times and the work to flow in. I firmly believe that people buy from people, and it takes time to get to know someone, find out what they are about and how they run their business. You’ll gravitate to people on the same wavelength as you, and hopefully they start referring you and vice-versa.
- Connections – following on from above, its so true that “Its not what you know, but who you know!” You may think you have nothing in common with someone, but they will know a whole group of other people who may be your ideal customer. I met a manager of a Care home at an event – part of a National establishment who was never going to need my services. We got on well though over a period of months, so when several of their self employed health care assistants needed help, she asked me to go in, as someone local and approachable, to talk to them. As a result, I now do 6 monthly bookkeeping workshops for their care workers, and do personal tax returns for several of them.
- Confidence – ask me to have stood up and talk to a group of people 2 years ago, I wouldn’t have slept for a week beforehand! Im still no public speaker, but I can manage a minute or 2 without turning into a jibbering wreck (outwardly anyway!) Different networking groups have different levels of “formal” interaction – so if you don’t want to stand up and be in the spotlight, pick one that is very informal.
- Raising my Profile – if you are a local business, networking is a great way to get yourself known in your community. Regular attendance and talking to a mix of people will build your reputation as a local expert in your field. Help people out when you can – I ofen get “ can I just pick your brain about xxx” at networking events, and while you have to be careful about giving specific advice, helping someone understand something a bit better will probably mean they come back to you when they need some real advice that they are willing to pay for. There’s also a real sense of satisfaction from helping other people, and I come away from most events having been able to answer a question, or connected 2 people together etc.
- Friendship – a personal benefit as well as a business one. Ive made some great friends through networking who I know will always support both me and my business.
So with so many local events to chose from – how do you decide which one to go to?
I could network constantly within a 10 mile radius so first pick your time of day. Breakfast meetings don’t work for me with 2 kids to get to school, so morning or lunch time events suit me. Then look to see what’s involved – is it a very informal set up where you grab a coffee and mingle, or a sit down structure with a formal presentation from someone in the group?
I now help run High Wycombe Business Biscotti which is an informal group meeting on the first Thursday of every month at Wycombe Heights Golf Club, and I am a member of Marlow Athena and Maidenhead Business Girls. Each group is different but all help me build my profile in the community – and all are fun! So give one a go, and starting building your connections.