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Each networking group follows a slightly different format, but there are common elements: you’ll meet co-networkers and exchange business cards and have a moment to discuss each other’s businesses. You’ll also normally be able to give a short presentation of what your company offers, your target audience and your ideal customer.
There are, of course, many different, effective ways to target customers – such as promoting your brand through social media, PR or newsletters – but networking provides a more personal touch. You can really dig into what your business is all about and show off a range of products and services. It’s almost safe to say that each and every business should be networking, whether you’re selling a product like stationary or fashion accessories, or a service like cleaning or advertising.
Through networking you can build business relationships that will expand your contact list: you’ll meet new potential customers, but also – crucially – referrers. The real power of networking is not in who you meet within the room, but your ability to tap into their wider networks.
You’ll also develop interpersonal skills, such as public speaking and relationship building, and you may also find trusted, reliable suppliers who can help you run your business more efficiently.
Networking can be incredibly beneficial to your company if used in the right way, but there are things to keep in mind:
A word of caution: networking is for farmers, not hunters. If you go into a room with the intention of hoovering up contacts and selling aggressively to them, you are missing the real value. To get the most out of networking, you should be looking to develop long-term relationships. People need to get to know, like and trust you before they are willing to put their neck on the line by referring their biggest client to you.
For the same reason, they are also likely to want to test you out with a small referral or project – a low-risk way for you to prove yourself. Only when you have delivered and proved your professionalism and skills are they likely to feel confident to pass more significant business your way; after all, every time they make a referral to you, you have the potential to damage their own brand reputation. So, to get the most out of networking, you need to be prepared to invest in it for the long term, to establish your credibility with your new networks.