It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you are in business, you need to be networking. Yet there are so many networking groups available that, for the newbie, it can be difficult to spot the best networking groups and make the most of time spent with them. Just how do you get the best out of networking?
When you start your own business, especially if it is a small business, you will probably be invited to join various networking groups by people who are already part of them. This is because part of networking is bringing in new people to extend the network as much as possible. However, before accepting all invitations, you should weigh up each group’s pros and cons.
For example, most networking groups levy a membership fee, which may be on top of a charge you will have to pay for food and refreshments every time you meet. Join too many groups and you will probably find that these charges are not equal to the money you make through group referrals and sales leads. To avoid this, research each group by visiting their website and finding out the sectors that are represented to see if they will be of benefit to your business. There is little point joining an IT sector networking group if your small business is a bakery. Most networking groups will give you the chance to attend a few meetings as a visitor to discover if the group is the right fit for you. Always do this before becoming a full, paid-up member.
Broaden your contact base
It is important to remember that networking is not just a socialising activity, but a business activity. You should, therefore, cultivate as wide a range of contacts as possible rather than focusing on making contacts who all offer the same thing. For example, most people often need only one IT expert they can call on or recommend, one accountancy firm, one graphic designer. Do not limit your contact base by cultivating several people in the same sector. If you find yourself engaging with a fellow networker who does not seem to offer you anything that you don’t already have covered, politely cut the conversation short and focus on someone else. This is not being rude, but practical. Networking can easily cut into business time, and it is easy to find yourself spending more time schmoozing than selling.
One of the best aspects of networking is the opportunity to improve your offering by collaborating with a person or company who can provide services that supplement and enhance your own. For instance, if you are a copywriter, you could seek out a web designer or graphic designer, who may require your services or recommend you to their clients, or even better, team up with you to offer bespoke packages. Collaborations of this kind are mutually beneficial, extending your network, enhancing your offering and being more attractive (because you are have become a complete package) to potential clients.
Networking is not just a chance for you to get out of the office and have a few sociable chats, but rather a means for you to make a success of your business. To ensure you are not wasting your time, only attend those networking groups that are suited to your personality and your business offering.