Whether you’re attending a local business meetup, trade show or industry-specific event, networking can be a great way to increase the profile of your business.
In fact, in the UK an amazing 71% of SMEs won business using face-to-face networking, making it the most successful marketing channel for small businesses in Britain.
To succeed at business networking means building good relationships with others. However, networking is not always easy to get right, and may not feel comfortable – especially if it’s your first time attending an event.
Here, we look at the basics for successful business networking, including how to approach it strategically, how to come across in the right way, and important dos and don’ts.
What is Business Networking About?
For many SMEs, business networking goes with the territory. It is how they make useful contacts and, ultimately, grow their businesses.
The first thing to note is that people do not go to networking events to either sell or be sold to.
The elementary mistake many people make when networking is that selling is their primary objective.
At best, this will mean a failure to engage effectively with others; at worse, it could be completely counter-productive.
Networking is not a fast-track solution, but rather a more considered approach to strategically engage with others and to build awareness of your business.
Business networking is therefore all about building relationships. Selling shouldn’t come into it.
Why Build Your Own Business Network?
Many people are good at diagnosing their own problems and can accurately recognise their own needs. Grasping this is important, but more important is your ability to show your prospective buyer that you understand these needs and desires.
Empathy is one of the most effective tools a salesperson can wield. Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes, letting them know you understand their concerns.
Key to this is asking discovery questions, such as:
Tell me about your business?
What are your responsibilities?
What are your main day-to-day tasks?
What problems must you solve?
Tell me about your goals?
When do you want to achieve them by?
You can begin more broadly then, building on your prospect’s responses, start getting down to the specifics.
Never ask questions where the answers can be simply yes or no.
Where Can You Network?
There are regular business networking events held across the UK throughout the working week.
Some are regular meetings of regular chapters of networking organisations who will welcome guests, but ultimately you will need to decide whether to pay a fee to join as a regular member.
Others are more loosely structured, with a varying list of attendees each time.
Certain events will be based around specific themes, with a guest speaker.
You’ll find many local and national business networking events listed on Eventbrite. People also promote networking events through social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter.
The British Chambers of Commerce has a network of local chambers which have busy event calendars of their own.
Then there are business trade shows and conferences, which can be fertile ground for networkers to visit different stands and make new connections. For the most comprehensive database of these events, visit our very own UK trade show calendar.
How Should You Approach Networking?
For many people, network can seem daunting. If you’re not a natural socialiser in large groups, then the idea of walking into a roomful of strangers may feel alien.
The important thing to remember is that there will be people who are in a similar situation to yourself, even if, outwardly, they appear confident.
Try to relax into it. It is not a life or death situation, and there will be people there who will want to introduce themselves to you as a natural part of the networking process.
First, think about your body language:
Stand in a way that is open and welcoming. Avoid crossing your arms. Don’t lean on furniture, as it can make you look bored or tired.
Make eye contact with people when you talk to them.
Maintain a facial expression that indicates you are interested in what people are saying.
If there is food available, don’t talk while eating.
When it comes to making contact, remember to be a good listener. And if you are joining a group of people, don’t just insert yourself into the conversation. Wait for a natural opportunity.
Successful networking is all about reading other people and getting on their wavelength. Top Tip: this isn’t about establishing your bragging rights. You can demonstrate your worth by listening, responding, initiating conversation and displaying your depth of knowledge.
Your Elevator Pitch
Traditionally, the elevator pitch should be a succinct and impactful sales pitch.
As we mentioned earlier, networking is not about selling BUT, you can still use your elevator pitch, providing you shape it to work in a networking setting.
It’s your form of introduction, and it should be something that sparks interest in who you tell it to.
In other words, don’t simply state your name and area of business. Think about what the key end result and selling point of what you do is, for example:
“I help small businesses get out of being stuck in a rut.”
“I show businesses how to make energy savings so that they can invest more in staff and equipment.”
Wait to be asked, rather than charging in with a bold statement, and resist making outrageous claims.
It’s about striking a balance between intrigue and description. Don’t be too vague, but at the same time, avoid sounding dull. Top Tip: If you can make connections before the event, say through LinkedIn, then this can be a good way of preparing the ground for interacting with people face to face.
Being authentic when business networking means making yourself relatable to others.
However, your authentic self, in this context, does not mean expressing all your doubts and insecurities.
Authenticity in a business networking context still means retaining a business persona, but using it in a sociable context.
Be friendly, attentive and engaging AND be your best business self.
Summary - Business Networking Dos & Don'ts
Networking may not come easily to you at first, but if you work at it, there’s no reason why you cannot transform yourself into a natural at business networking.
Below we have summarised the key dos and don’ts in order to become a natural at business networking:
Do be clear, concise and confident. It’s about being able to articulate who you are and what you’re about without being either too rambling or too overbearing.
Do listen to others. Even if you end up talking to someone whose line of work is unconnected to yours, still show interest. You never know who they might know.
Do ask questions. Good networking is a process of engagement, and there’s no better way to get the ball rolling than asking people about themselves and their business.
Do follow up. Relationships, even friendships, in business will only blossom if you nurture them. Don’t let things end when the event ends.
Don’t be impatient or give up. Sometimes the event will not feel right at first. Take your time. If a person ignores you, or isn’t receptive, move on to someone else.
Don’t take it too far. This is still business networking remember, and you’re here for the benefit of your business. Be personable, but don’t get too personal. Watch out for off the cuff comments or jokes which might be inappropriate.
Don’t be rude. Manners are important in business networking. Interrupting conversations or being overly defensive about your business will come across badly. Always stay professional and keep your cool.
Let us know if you think we've missed any tips in the comments below and good luck with your next event!