How do start-ups break in to the world of business networking?
Before you read this blog it’s only fair that I spend a quick second to make one, complete and utter, unadulterated confession…I am not the most prolific or proficient networker in the world. What follows is no more than my own experiences and interpretations of business networking. Everyone has different encounters and these can be both good and bad.
I also think it’s quite important to dispel an age-old myth about networking in the 21st century. The perception of old men in grey suits is certainly an unfair belief. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the colourful, vibrant and welcoming world that awaits those being newly inducted to the fast-moving and exciting world of business networking.
- Into the Wild
As with anything new it can be hard to know where to start. Finding business networking groups is actually quite easy. Being selective about the ones you go to is difficult. Free events are great but attended by start-ups with little cash, not ideal for sales. Paid for ones are great but have you factored this in to your budget? When first starting out, don’t be afraid to ask around and see where other businesses go.
Like everything, do your research.
- North by Northwest
On the day, being prepared means you should have started the night before. Are you awake on time? Do you know where you are going? Can you get there early to meet the organiser? These are basics in the world of networking, you don’t want to turn up late and miss all the action. Getting there in a rush isn’t good for you or the people you’re talking to. And let’s be honest, no one likes shaking a sweaty hand!
- Raging Bull
If you go in punching (figuratively, not literally) with the intention to sell don’t be offended if you end up on your own with no one talking to you. When you get to networking events ask the organiser how the morning works, get a tea/coffee and mingle. Find out about the people there. Who are they? What do they do? Do they find the networking group useful? Finding groups of three can help as it normally means one person isn’t in the conversation.
- The Godfather
Going in with the mindset of just being able to take won’t get you very far. Going in with the ability to give however, might just get you where you want to be. When you’re talking to someone and you see an obvious connection with what they are looking for, and who you know, make the introduction and show that you’re about helping connect people.
Building trust and rapport will get you further, faster.
- Gone in Sixty Seconds
Most networking events hinge around the elevator pitches. This is your sixty seconds to make an impression. Unlike earlier, this is your time to sell. Have your pitch ready, test it, improve it and test it again. Can you say what you do, how you do it and why in under a minute? It’s natural to feel a bit nervous but everyone’s been there before. If it helps, write it down so you can stick to the script.
- Finding Nemo
After the elevator pitches it’s customary to have a break for networking and refreshments. This is your chance to go and meet the people who said something you were interested in during the sixty second round. Introduce yourself, explain what you do and ask them more about the thing that interested you. Don’t forget to save some time for the people who want to come and talk to you as well.
You’ve just had a great conversation with someone, full of opportunities just raring to be explored, and you both think that a follow-up meeting will be a brilliant way to progress. There’s only one problem…in the heat of the moment, you have forgotten their name, not asked for a business card or not given yours back. As the boy scouts say ‘Be Prepared’ and this includes having plenty of business cards on the day.
- The Social Network
You’ve left the event, got a pocket full of business cards and now you’re back in the office ready for the day at hand. It’s easy to say that you’ll contact everyone later but the reality is that you probably won’t. Take the time to follow up with the people you met and spoke with that morning. Find them on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter, or simply send an e-mail saying it was nice to meet them.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
- Groundhog Day/One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest
If things become a little bit repetitive, or dare I say – a little bit odd, then don’t forget this one fundamental adage…Time is money. More specifically, your time is your money. Some networking groups may never give back (in sales/customers) the effort you put in and it’s important to measure this. Don’t expect an immediate return (it takes time to build trust) but equally don’t lose sight of the reason you’re going to these sessions.
Going to your first event can be a little scary and intimidating, even for the most outgoing people. But it really doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of Youtube videos that can help and many more articles (although not as good as this one) on the do’s and don’ts.
If you’re in and around Portsmouth, a couple local networking groups you might want to explore are:
- Business Builders
- Network Pompey
- Entrepreneurs Unite
- Mumpreneurs Networking Club
- Portsmouth Business Exchange
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