– Jessica Hewson, Nwes Digital Marketing Assistant
Networking – what does this actually mean?
We’ve all heard the expression, ‘it’s who you know, not what you know’, and I’m not advocating you immediately stop learning how to carry out market research or fill in that financial spreadsheet, but yes, who you know can help in business.
Networking is defined as the ‘interaction with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts’. So, in terms of business, networking can help you gain clients, collaborators, suppliers and interest in your business – to give you just a few examples. Though it is more than this, networking gives you the opportunity to gain support from other businesses and entrepreneurs, to learn about their experiences, both good and bad, which could relate to you and your business. It’s a knowledge sharing opportunity as much as it is a chance to acquire lucrative contacts.
Katie Howard, Centre Coordinator for Nwes’ Rouen House, Norwich, has, by the nature of her job, been involved in many networking events and seen the valuable benefits. Katie says “Networking is a great way of advertising your businesses and personally selling your products and services. Having that personal connection can help people trust you and your business and help build that lifelong relationship, which can only get better with time.”
Now, don’t immediately assume that to be a good networker you need to be extroverted, pushy and fake. That you must somehow fool potential leads into sharing their beneficial knowledge. Networking events are great because there are no pretences and it is very clear what the motivation behind them is. Plus remember, everyone is largely in the same boat as you – they are there to make contacts. So, let’s outline six key elements in how to network.
- Be Real. Simply be yourself and be sincere. Fellow networkers will most likely catch on to any attempt to be false, whether this is your personality, your promises or your interest in them. Faking isn’t sustainable, and it will not build the trustworthy and strong bond you need with contacts.
- Be Positive. No one likes a negative attitude, so if you’ve had a bad day leave it behind you as soon as you walk through the door. A positive attitude will make you much more approachable and make people want to work with you. While a negative attitude could drive people away and make all your efforts to network futile. Just remember, networking is an opportunity to start/build on your business, it’s exciting and holds an unknown potential, so why not be positive?
- Be Approachable. Make yourself available for other networkers to approach you. Advice that is especially important if you are slightly more introverted and starting up conversations is not in your comfort zone. Do not head straight to your seat, do not linger around the buffet hoping the sausage rolls will pipe up, and do not stand on your phone looking to avoid some form of awkwardness. Smile, position yourself amongst the crowd and make those that approach you feel at ease and comfortable. Introduce yourself and your business, then ask them questions, get to know what brought them here first rather than going straight in with how they can benefit you. And if you’re really struggling to strike up a conversation, gravitate towards the loudest person in the room as they will more than likely enjoy another pair of ears to listen to them.
- Remember it’s a two-way street. We’ve touched on this briefly, but at a networking event everyone is there to make contacts. So, although it’s important to acquire new contacts for your business, don’t forget to help others. Think about what contacts you have of your own and what experiences you can share. You’re there to help others as much as they are there to help you.
- Set a goal. It’s easy to think that you can attend a networking event, chat to a couple of people, make some contacts and exchange details, and that qualifies as a success. However, it is not that simple. Think about the contacts that you want to make. If you make 5 contacts but 3 of them work in sectors completely unrelated to your business with no potential crossover, have you spent your time well? Set a goal of what type of contacts you want to make, what information you need and what you need to learn about in your industry. This doesn’t mean ignore anyone who doesn’t meet these goals, it’s still great to chat to fellow business owners and entrepreneurs, especially if you work from home, but perhaps don’t focus all your time and attention on them.
- Carry your business card. This is the last piece of advice to take away on how to network, and it might seem a little simple, but you’d be surprised how many people arrive to events unprepared. The last thing you want to do after spending twenty minutes making a great contact is fumble passing on your contact details. Scribbling your phone number roughly on a napkin is hardly professional and will probably get forgotten about or thrown away. Business cards don’t have to be expensive and it’s a worthwhile investment.
Now we understand networking and the benefits for your business, how do you go about finding networking events? Of course, a Google search could bring up numerous business networking events, but are they organised by reputable sources? And what about cost? You’re most likely currently looking to start or grow a business, so money is either tight or tied up in your business. Fortunately, here at Nwes we run a whole host of free business events across the East of England. Varying from purely network focused events with a complimentary breakfast, to events that combine networking with business support and advice. So, explore them all and pick your favourite, or alternate between them to keep your networking varied.
For more information on Nwes’ networking events and to book, visit: www.nwes.org.uk/business-workshops-and-events