How strong is your network? What return do you get for your networking effort?
Successful networking is about your ability to forge mutually beneficial, integrated alliances with the right partners.
This is especially true for SMEs, where one-on-one relationships and personal contacts continue to drive the bulk of word of mouth business. For some SMEs, it is also important to go beyond industry contacts and focus on regional partnerships. For example, tech firms in the West Midlands, where analysts are expecting strong growth well into 2016, will want to build stronger cross-industry relationships with partners locally to fuel their expansion.
Networking with a plan in place is essential if you are to make a positive first impression, connect with the right cross-industry experts and master the post-event follow up. Here is my advice on what to do before, during and after your next networking event.
When it comes to high-priced industry conferences, do a bit of advance work. Talk to participants from previous years. Ask whether they feel the conference was worth the time and financial investment. How many new contacts did they make and how beneficial have these proved to be over the past year?
For local events, such as networking lunches and happy hours, aim for a balanced mix of sector events and those for the wider business community. SMEs need to balance industry contacts with a strong, diverse geographic network for maximum exposure and relationship building.
Master a one- or two-line proposition in advance that summarises who you are, your experience and what you currently do (or would like to do) as it relates to potential contacts you'll meet at the event.
Remember, you don't 'help' people; you 'work' with them (because the latter implies a fee). It's good to have something the clients will want (eg money, time, happiness, etc) and something they want to avoid (eg efforts, mistakes, pain, etc) embedded in what you say. For example: "I work with family businesses to help them unlock sustainable profits and avoid costly mistakes."
Practice responses for other typical icebreaker questions, such as "What brings you to this event?" and "How's business?" Ask questions, listen and be willing to move on if it's the right thing to do.
While there's value in meeting a wide variety of people at an event, too many brief contacts can mean you fail to make a memorable impression on anyone. Instead, identify whom you want to meet in advance and make it your mission to speak with these people.
The better you get at asking questions, the better you'll get at making connections between the people you're speaking to and other contacts already in your network. Consider why the person you're speaking to should care about you, your business and this conversation. By asking great questions, you may even learn something surprising or unexpected (eg a new business challenge or need) and can tailor your conversation accordingly.
Aim to walk away from every conversation having allowed the other person to speak more than you did. They feel great about the interaction and you'll gain valuable insight into what they do, who they know and how they could best work with you in future business endeavours. One question that can support building a larger network is: "Knowing what you know about me now - who else should I meet?"
At the event, jot down a few notes about your conversation on the back of your contact's business card. Within 48 hours, follow up with a short, personalised email referencing one or more of these points. If you can make an introduction for them do so, and follow up on "You mentioned I should meet […], could you make an introduction for me?"
Finally, don't let your newly forged relationship get stuck online. It's tempting to think once you've connected with someone on LinkedIn your work is done, but it's just beginning! A person-to-person meeting is key to nurturing a new connection. Personal discussion can lead to faster, more productive dialogue than online correspondence, especially if you're trying to close a new business deal.
Copyright © William Buist, a business strategist, speaker and founder of the exclusive xTEN Club, an annual programme of strategic activities for small, exclusive groups of business owners. xTEN helps accelerate growth, harness opportunity, build your business and develop ideas. William is also author of two books: At your fingertips and The little book of mentoring.
Networking. Some people do with such ease and confidence, elegantly working a room. How we envy them. Because for some of us the very notion of networking with strangers fills us with dread. But making the most of social small talk is a valuable skill that we can teach ourselves, because you never know what doors a new contact can open in those few minutes. So, what’s the key to effective networking?
It’s just another part of your marketing tool kit, which can be refined and improved. And like all tools – knowing when and how to use it, will serve you well. Prepare by writing down two or three short sentences about yourself and your business or idea and learn these in advance. Make it current, factual and positive. This doesn’t need to be a sales pitch; it’s a conversation-starter; an opportunity to introduce yourself and your business to new people or tell people you already know something new so that they can leave with a refreshed version of your ‘asset value’.
It’s a conversation between people, not you trying to sell your latest product or service, but a taster, an appetiser. Give a glimpse of what you do using positive, confident language (which you’ve already prepared). And it’s two-way thing – show an interest in what others have to offer, so all parties can see if there’s something of mutual interest to follow-up.
Be conversational in your approach with a few casual questions, such as: “How have you found the event so far?”, “What’s your business about?” or “Who’s been your favourite speaker so far?” Top tip for the tongue-tied: worry less about what you have to sell, focus on being interested in the other person person. Top sales people are often great listeners.
If you are at an event where badges are given out and networking is part of the agenda, you’re expected to mingle rather than stick with one person for ages. It’s perfectly polite to spend a few moments with someone, make introductions, have a conversation and then say: “Well, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you. I’ll leave you to meet other people…” or “I must take the opportunity to meet so and so…”
It’s OK to ask if the person can think of another person at the event who might be interested in your service or products. It’s also great when you can recommend someone whose products or interests are similar and agree to connect them via email or social media.
When you get home or have a few moments to spare, make a list of those you’ve spoken to (or scan their business cards or staple them into a notebook) and make a note of interesting things that will help you to remember them another time. And, of course, follow-up with any promised information. You should follow-up within a few days to make sure trust is maintained.
Blog supplied by Lisa Gagliani, CEO of Bright Ideas Trust, a charity that helps young people in London who aren’t in employment, education or training or who haven’t had the same chances as the rest of society to start their own businesses.
Billed by its organisers as “Europe's most important business event” and “the UK’s biggest exhibition for anyone starting or expanding a business”, Business Startup (which is being run alongside The Business Show 2013) will take place on 28 and 29 November in London at Olympia.
The good news is, if you live close to London or are able to travel there, free tickets are still available. Over the two days, when more than 25,000 people are expected to attend, there will be 10 workshops, more than 250 free seminars and 350-plus exhibitors gathered.
Speakers at the event include Sir Tom Shebbeare (chairman of Virgin StartUp), Doug Richard (ex-Dragon and founder of School for Startups) and David Gold (joint chairman of West Ham United and chair/owner of Gold Group, which owns Ann Summers and many other successful businesses), among many others.
According to the organisers: “Business experts will cover everything you need to know to get your business started and offer you their invaluable experiences, tips and secrets.”
As well as access to some excellent free information and advice, the event potentially also offers fantastic networking opportunities.
Order your free tickets while you can.
Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head. Went down stairs and drank a cup and looking up I noticed I was late and (diverging from the famous Beatles song) got in my car and drove 20 miles in the dark and rain to reach a networking breakfast…
Why? Because I want to win more business! But how?
Gone are the days of having the time and money to meet an endless stream of people in the hope they might decide they have an enormous contract that only your business can fulfil. Everyone now has to sell. Not hard sell, foot-in-the door type stuff. But by being sufficiently interesting so someone who may have a need for your product or service will want to know more.
There is little point in just being at an event to get your name on the delegate list. Thanks to the internet, it is now easy for purchasers to shortlist potential providers by picking the most appealing websites. However, there is one thing that a website cannot replicate and that is confidence in the people, the confidence created by meeting someone face to face – which is why we must network!
So there is no point in going to a networking event if you:
If you don’t do these things – enjoy your very expensive bacon and eggs!
Mimi Hughes is director of training at The Business Voice
I was delighted to be invited to speak at the forthcoming Sage World event on 8-9 September.
For my part, I will be chatting about a question that has fascinated me ever since my first ‘proper job’ as an investment controller at the venture capital company 3i: What simple principles and tactics make business success easier? Or, put another way, what things allow you to survive the tricky first stage of business growth, so you can then have the time to build a truly successful business?
I’ve been discussing this topic with audiences for over ten years. It is a subject that never loses its excitement, because starting a business is never anything less than exciting for the people doing it. I come out of these sessions buzzing with enthusiasm and wanting to spend a couple of hours with each of the people who come and talk to me about their businesses straight after the session. I think it helps enormously that I started my own business as a one-man-band and I’ve continued to grow the company with no outside investment — in other words I am like 99% of the people in the audience.
Sage is one of a handful of mega-success stories in British business over the last 25 years and I’m pleased to see that Sage World is trying to do something different from the usual business event, by using their ‘interactive delegate technology’.
So there will be lots of demonstrations of the software tools you can use to get your business idea off the ground. If you’ve already established your business, then you’ll find plenty of ideas to help you build on that foundation and meet the technical challenges that small firms face in the modern business climate: finance, HR, sales, marketing, and so on.
Sage World also offers a tremendous opportunity for you to build useful contacts. Networking is about meeting the right people, making the right connections and tracking them during and after an event. So I’m dying to try out Sage’s Spotme electronic networking device - I’m sure this will really help me find and talk to the people that matter to me.
I’m sure it’ll help you, too. So please do track me on Spotme, come and say hello and make the time to hear the presentation.
Sage World is a free two-day event in September for anyone starting or growing a business.
Rory MccGwire, BHP Information Solutions
I’ve got to be honest, I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. You see the Horsley Network that three friends (Jonathan, Liz and Claire) and I set up was launched earlier this year and we had more than 30 guests on our first night.
Having been to plenty of more established groups that have struggled to break 15 guests, I think we can pat ourselves on the back for having marketed the event effectively.
So how did we do it?
We focused. I’m a huge believer in “niching” your offering, and this networking group was no different. We’ve set up the Horsley Business Network for business owners who live in Horsley, as well as people who run businesses in nearby villages in Surrey. By having that focus, there’s a stronger pull for people who actually engage with the group’s aims.
We created a plan. We thought carefully about the structure of the evenings and how much it would be fair to charge. And we were realistic about how much we needed to invest in marketing – which clearly paid off. Too many people try to start businesses up on pennies because they want to be earning money before they put anything in. Prudent perhaps, but I seriously believe we would not have received the response we did had I sent round some photocopied “Word Art” flyers.
We took design seriously. We got some great businesses at our first event. Why? Because our flyers and website didn’t look cobbled together, they looked like we meant business, like it was worth bothering to leave a warm house and set out on a cold night to share a beer or two with some interesting people. In fact, we took the design so seriously that a couple of people thought that this was a franchised operation (it’s not – it’s strictly not-for-profit).
We created some compelling copy that focused on the reader. We thought about what their aspirations might be and what objections we’d need to overcome. And we used testimonials to add conviction.
We promoted – hard! We arranged to distribute 5,000 flyers in the local area – a combination of asking local schools and shops and some serious pavement pounding. We also left flyers on notice boards and in village halls. And I set up an email distribution list that included some of my own contacts as well as asking others to forward it on so that it “went viral”.
We used online as well as offline media. We have a professional looking website and we Tweeted about it. Next time, we’ll probably use LinkedIn to also spread the word.
We thought about tipping points. It’s all about enticing the reader to get out of their armchair and into the pub. There’s one benefit right there. For others it was the beer, perhaps the promise of support from like-minded business owners or the fabulous speaker in the form of Karen Skidmore.
I had also set up an online survey in December to find out what people really wanted, which made it much easier to deliver what they wanted.
I can’t help thinking that if many small business owners marketed their own businesses as comprehensively as this, they would also find the outcome exceeded their expectations. But all too often it’s tempting to skimp on careful market research, professional design and effective copywriting in favour of saving money and channelling everything through social networking. What do you think?
Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing
There are many classic mistakes that people make when networking, for example directly or indirectly selling to people they meet.
Not that I would ever excuse you of selling when you are out networking. However, so many people treat networking as one big jolly conversation. Networking, without purpose or focus, is a massive waste of time AND money. If I know professional advisors, most of them can ill-afford to waste time.
Before you book your next networking event, keep this mnemonic in mind – it will help you achieve more at the event:
Follow up after the event
Introduce yourself with impact
Target specific people
Turn a social chat into a business conversation
Enter and breakout of groups
Find out who is attending the event, in advance – not at the event –and find out more about the other attendees. If you do your research right, you will know who you want to target for a conversation – plus have opinions and thoughts on relevant news and trends for your target audience . Most hosts, if asked, will send out an attendee list before the event.
Once at the event, make sure you introduce yourself with impact – that means a confident handshake – and talk about how you add value to your clients, rather than talking about what you do. For example, “I help my clients legally minimise the tax they pay”, has far more impact than, “I’m an accountant”.
Interestingly, this type of introduction already turns your conversation onto business matters. Are you wondering how? Well, after you have introduced yourself by the value you bring to your clients, the next question is normally, “so, how do you do that” and the conversation flows from there.
When you are out networking you are out to meet as many potential referrers as possible. If you linger with one or two, you potentially lose out on the opportunity of meeting three or four more potential referrers. Therefore, you must be prepared to break into and out of groups. The golden rules here are to always ask permission to enter or exit a group. If you want to encourage more people to enter a group, then always leave a gap facing into the room.
And finally, follow up. This means doing what you said you would do at the event. If someone has given you their business card, this means they have given you permission to contact them after the event – but not to send them your newsletter. I personally always drop anyone I met a brief e-mail saying how much I enjoyed meeting them.
Heather Townsend, The Efficiency Coach
Once upon a time, all any organisation had to answer when buying a printer were three simple questions:
Advances in the technology and falling prices have led to new questions and the evolution of the trio above.
Inkjet or laser?
Either. The boundaries between printer types are diminishing all the time. Misconceptions such as “Laser printers are cheaper per page over time” have long been discarded. Manufacturers are investing huge sums to ensure tomorrow’s laser is yesterday’s inkjet, and vice versa.
Mono or colour?
Go for colour. Yes most prints will be black, but ink and toner now contain chemicals to counteract drying out, so even extended periods of not printing in colour are fine. Make sure you get separate colour cartridge slots, not tri-colour cartridges. This way you’ll only replace what you use, minimising waste and saving on cost.
Multifunction or standalone?
Multifunction printers (MFPs) now match the performance of standalone printers, saving on space, wiring and plug sockets. Simply decide what functions you need before researching your options. Remember that most MFPs can’t use more than one function simultaneously; a single machine may be overwhelmed if you have large copying, faxing and printing demands.
Find a balance between available funds and long-term running costs. Cheaper printers will save on start-up costs, but will require more expensive cartridges, meaning higher costs per page in future. Check availability of compatible cartridges (ie ones not made by the printer manufacturer). The existence of these consumables indicates a popular printer and long-term demand – and will also help save on printing costs.
If you buy a printer from a high street store, be aware that when the next upgrade arrives from the manufacturer, not only will your model disappear from the shelves, but the cartridges will too. Check that you can buy consumables online for your machine as well.
Ethernet ports are a given and WiFi capability can up the price of a printer significantly, but there are benefits. It saves on cabling and enables you to position the printer where it’s convenient, enabling flexibility in office and hardware layouts when your business begins to grow.
Ease of installation
Check for user reviews online. Is it a simple plug-and-print model? Avoid printers with unnecessary installation software on CD. This is especially relevant when selecting an MFP, because some not only require you to set up a user profile for each person/PC before you can print, but some demand a separate installation for each profile per printer function.
Make sure your printer has a clear display for error and performance reporting. This is crucial when purchasing an MPF, because more than one function can go wrong.
Look for a front USB port, because this enables you to plug in memory sticks to print documents without the need of a computer.
Estimate your usage needs – is a 200-sheet tray big enough? To avoid the hassle of replenishing paper, check higher capacity trays or the availability of add-on storage trays.
If you want to produce a range of printed media (eg cards, labels, various paper weights), check the printer has trays for separate media feeds and doesn’t rely on a single-sheet manual feed, which can be very time-consuming.
Matt Bird, StinkyInk
First impressions are everything. Get it right, and everything becomes easy. Get it wrong and you are pushing water uphill with a sieve.
Many people will warble on about you have to be your authentic self when meeting people. Get that right and you will make the right impression. They are sort of right but what happens if your authentic self doesn’t make a great first impression.
So, what do I mean by a great first impression? People respond well to warm, positive and confident folk. Very simply, that means offer your handshake first, give them a warm smile and be positive and enthusiastic.
As a slight aside, when I talk about handshakes, there is nothing worse than a wet fish handshake OR a bone-crushing handshake which leaves you gasping for breath. If you don’t know how your handshake is perceived, test it out on friends and get their feedback.
How do I put this delicately? Appearances do count and stereotypes do exist. If you think of a lawyer, you expect to see a well-tailored suit and a neat appearance. Lawyers take note; however much you want to break out of the mould, a well-fitting suit is probably necessary for your credibility. As many image consultants will tell you, details are important. Chipped nail polish or dirty nails is a no-no, as is missing buttons from a coat, or messy hair. If you have young children, do carefully check your appearance in the mirror before you go out, baby sick down the back is a ‘no-no’!
If you look good, and have a confident handshake, then the battle for the right first impression is nearly won. The last piece of the jigsaw is how you introduce yourself. For many professionals, a big trap is waiting for them, when asked (the almost standard question at a networking event), ‘so what do you do?’ Do you confess and say, I’m an accountant... lawyer... coach... and fall into the trap. Or do you describe what you do by the value you bring to your clients?
The right answer is to have the one sentence sound bite prepared, which succinctly (yes, succinctly) talks about the value you bring to your clients. It wouldn’t surprise you to know that my sound bite is “I help professional advisors gain better business results for less effort”. Many people worry that if they use this type of opening, people wouldn’t know what they do. I can see that this is a genuine concern, however, in my experience, whenever this type of opening is used, the next question is ‘oh, that sounds interesting, how do you do that?’. And then you are off, the conversation is started, and you have moved straight into a business conversation.
When starting a business it is difficult to put aside an amount for marketing and it’s hard to justify how much should be spent.
When I started my business Rentabuggy.co.uk in 2008 I spent a couple of thousand pounds on marketing within the first six months but was surprised to find that I didn’t get many results from it. Here are my top five tips for advertising on a low budget.
Laura Morris, Rentabuggy.co.uk
Dear aspiring mumpreneur,
I'm writing this open letter to you to outline some crucial points that I wish someone had laid out for me. I'll keep it as short as possible because I know your time is precious but I'm sure that if you read this through, you'll save a ton of time in the long run.
If you are truly serious about becoming a part of the wonderful world of mumpreneurialism, read carefully what I have written below, you'll gain the information you need to act now and get in the right mindset.
Here are, not necessarily in the best order, my top tips to set you on your way:
So there you have it, the open advice that I wish I could have received when I first started out. I hope that it serves you well and that you go on to be truly successful and accomplish all that you set out to achieve. Maybe you could look me up in the Mumpreneur community and let me know how you're getting on sometime ― I'd love to hear all about it.
So, from one Mumpreneur to another - good luck, stay focused and live each day to the max!
Nikki Backshall, WebMums.com
You arrive at networking event, your main aim is to talk to like-minded people about their business and your business - in that order.
I’m new to networking events, some have been great and some have been bad but from every event I have walked away with something - a business contact or an information pack, a goody bag, a lollipop or just simply a great experience of networking. Every event I have been to I have walked away with one thing NOT to do. The same thing NOT to do has presented itself every time!
You arrive at a networking event; a person makes a beeline direct for you. Before you get chance to say "hi", you have a business card stuffed in your hand and someone barking at you. Rule number 1: you must learn to listen. We know we don’t shout about how good we are often enough but listen first, then you won’t have to shout as you will have your audience. I prefer to have a chat to someone and then decide whether this person needs a business card. It may be that this is your biggest competitor so why on earth do they want your card?
My latest networking event ended with me having a great day and heading out in the lift, thinking that I hadn’t had that person pounce on me today! My luck was out. The lift doors closed, I only had one floor to go and in this time I had a business card stuffed in my hand - I knew the name of his company, where his office was and what he supplied just as the doors were opening on the ground floor. He walked away and I said nice to meet you too!
Emma Williams – justbooked.co.uk
Penny Power, founder of Ecademy.com, explains why anyone starting up a new business should be active on social networks.
It was with interest that I read Andy Lopata’s blog a couple of weeks ago (13th August 2009, full article here: http://www.networkingandreferrals.blogspot.com/)
His first point is his pet hate of the use of the question “what do you do?” Well I’m very sorry, but after my experiences over the last couple of networking events I think this is actually one of the most useful questions you can ask! Let me explain why.
I really enjoy talking to people, it’s one of the main reasons that I do what I do. I also enjoy meeting new people, so I quite enjoy networking events. I think that like most people I can sometime be apprehensive walking into a room full of strangers but I’m lucky, because I target my networking, I now usually find that I know at least one friendly face in the room and if not there’s usually someone else standing alone so I usually start by talking to them, or the person next to me in the queue for a drink or to register.
In the last month I’ve been to 2 large networking events with a lot of new faces at them. Something happened to me at both these events that hasn’t happened before: someone was very friendly, talked at me with a lovely smile on their face and then offered to sell me their services. Now this isn’t unusual, but because they hadn’t asked “what do you do?”, well in one case hadn’t asked me anything at all, they were offering me services that I offer to my customers!
The first time this happened, the gentleman, who is employed by a large government agency as a business advisor, asked twice if we could meet to discuss my business at my premises, or at a coffee shop and he’d like to carry out a business review for me. I should perhaps say that the event we were attending was organised by a friend of mine, I had been on the organising committee, I had my photo and profile in the brochure for the event, I had opened the event by welcoming everyone and introducing our host for the evening and as we were having the conversation we were standing by a table, on which I had my business cards, some marketing materials and a promotion for all the attendees at the event, - the offer of a free business review!
He then walked away without asking my name so how could he follow up on his offer anyway? Which brings me onto the subject of exchanging business cards and the people who use this exchange as an excuse to bombard you with newsletters and emails... or perhaps I’ll leave that one for another time.
But in the mean time, please find out who you’re speaking to and what they do, or you will be very memorable, but perhaps not for the reason you want to be. And Andy, I’m very sorry to have to disagree with you on this one.
Enjoy your networking,
Whether your business is large, small, new or been around the block a few times, every penny in your marketing budget has to work hard and give you a return. Remember though that doors opened through your marketing now may lead you down a profitable path in the future, but not yield a financial return just yet.
Marketing doesn’t have to cost a fortune and there are many effective marketing activities that you can do that won’t cost a penny yet will point you in the right direction to get your business to where you want it to be. Here goes …
The best thing to reduce your marketing spend is to Stop & Think before you commit any money. There may be a free or cheaper alternative … effective marketing does not have to cost a fortune.