Networking – Do we still need face-to-face?

Nowadays, we have many different ways of getting in touch with each other and meeting new people. The social media takeover means we can keep up with what our peers are doing at the touch of a button but face-to-face networking is a valuable skill, and not many people still have it. Networking and marketing go hand in hand, and it’s all about tailoring it to your business. You need to choose events that work for you. Here are some quick tips about improving your face-to-face networking.

1.       To eat, or not to eat?

Many people don’t think about this, but eating poses more of a problem than you’d guess. Can you hold a flowing conversation whilst eating? Maybe you find it distracting. Different meetings have different catering – some are canapés and others are three course meals! Bear this in mind. Go for valued networking and connect with the most people, not for a meal.

2.       Formal or Informal?

There’s a wide range of formality in networking. Some are so informal there’s little structure at all, it’s up to you to talk to people and start conversation. Formal meetings often have seating plans and timetabled 30 second introductions from the attendees. If you’re a people person, and can start conversations easily, maybe there’s less need for formal networking. Go where you’re comfortable.

3.       Industry Specific?

It’s always worth being strategic with your networking. You’ll get more out of it if you go to a meeting relevant to you. If you work with businesses within a specific market sector, then go out – be proactive! Find out where they network and join them. Chartered institutes or associations are great places to start. If your clients are across a range of sectors, find out what they have in common. Is it business size, or target market? Find out where they network, and see them. There’s no downside to getting to know your client’s industry a bit better.

Using events to promote what you do

Chantal

Do you use events to promote your business? You probably go to networking meetings, to connect with new prospects, but have you thought where else you can go, or what else you can do?

Attending workshops. If you’re attending a workshop as a delegate, you can also use it as a networking opportunity. There will be other business people there and some of them could be potential clients or suppliers. I’ve been to business workshops on a weekday, where people have turned up looking like they’re just going to the shops on a Saturday morning. Not quite the impression you want to give other people, so make sure you make an effort.

Running workshops. Do you run workshops to demonstrate your skills and experience? If you provide a service, delivering a workshop is a great way to show people what you do and how good you are. Use the time to give away advice, rather than spending time telling people what you do, and you will build up rapport with your audience. Once they trust you they are more likely to buy from you.

Conferences. Attending a conference is a great way to learn from the speakers. It’s also a great networking opportunity. Some conferences arrange networking sessions in between speeches, so make the most of. Take plenty of business cards and dress like you mean it. If you can, speak to the speakers too, because you never know who they know.

Open days. Moving offices? Launching a new product? Celebrating a success? Through a party or open day and invite everyone you know. Last summer we celebrated our 10th birthday at Appletree with a party. We put a marquee onto the lawn outside the office, wheeled in a hog roast and poured a few glasses of wine. We invited all our clients, past and present, along with lots of our suppliers. It was a great networking event for us and for everyone else who came – lots of business cards changed hands!

Think about what events you can go to or run yourself, to help you promote your business beyond the reaches of networking.

So what?

Chantal

“We’ve got 100 years of providing accountancy services.”

“We’ve worked with hundreds of satisfied clients.”

“Our products are the cheapest and best.”

“We listen to what our clients want and provide a tailored service.”

These are all phrases I hear at networking meetings, when people stand up and tell the room what they do. My question to them is “So what?”

So you’ve got masses of experience – so what does that mean to me? What is the actual benefit of that experience and how will it help my business? So you provide a tailored service – how exactly does that help me?

When I meet people at networking events, I want to know who they are and what they do. However, what I really need to know, before I recommend them to other people, or ask them to help me, is what benefits they provide through their products or services.

Next time someone asks you what you do, tell them (quickly!) and then answer the “So what?” question before they have the chance to ask it. Tell them how you can help them and make their lives easier and they will ask you the questions you really want them to ask about your business.

Putting ‘you’ into your business

Chantal

How do you make your business stand out from the crowd when it’s just you? How do you show people what’s different about your business when your business is, well, you?

The answer is: to put your personality into your business. When you started your own business, you probably did it because you were passionate about what you do. Because you love whatever it is that you’re good at, and you were really good at telling people all about it. But then your business started to grow. You began working with freelancers, or you took on staff. These people are really good at what they do, but they don’t love it in quite the same way that you do. Over time, as your business grows, it becomes less about you. ‘You’ have to spread yourself a bit thinner than you did before. You don’t get to speak to everyone about everything about your business.

And then one day you wake up and realise that you don’t know what makes your business different anymore. Don’t despair, because the answer is simple. It’s you. That’s all.

As my business has grown over the last 10 years, numerous people have told me that it needs to be less about me and more about the business. At some point I started writing ‘we’ on the website instead of ‘I’. I worked hard at creating the image of a larger business with lots of people in it, rather than just me. I started to rely on my staff and freelance team more and more. I became less visible and gave more responsibility to other people.

What I’ve realised is that even though I run a business, with other people working with me, what still makes my business different is me. Sorry team!

If you’re in the same situation, growing your business with support from other people, think about how much ‘you’ there is in your business. How many people meet ‘you’ at networking meetings or hear ‘you’ speak at events? How much ‘you’ is there in your newsletter, twitter and blog? How many of your clients meet ‘you’ on a regular basis and get taken out to lunch by ‘you’?!

Is tweeting a waste of time?

Alice

To the uninitiated Twitter may be considered a useless pursuit. The idea of reading these little ‘messages’ that rapidly zip past your eyes, all seemingly unconnected with each other, blathering on about nothing in particular, would seem like a waste of time.

Until you analyse why people do twitter. Social networking is about being sociable, and forming relationships with each other. It’s about spreading news, sharing information, meeting new people, learning what’s happening, finding out what others are doing or have achieved, reading what others have written – all enabling you to engage without the expectation of gaining.

You could trundle along with your business totally unaware of what is happening outside your doors, or you could, from the comfort of your computer chair, be alive to all that activity online. It can be focused within certain areas: local issues, your niche, a particular subject, your competitors, your friends or enemies, your hobbies, political news, the latest gossip – and you aren’t expected to be able to follow everything, or it will drive you mad!

So how does it help your business? Of course raising your company’s awareness online is always good, and you can feed your blog posts onto Twitter to reach a larger audience, link up to your website to bring in more traffic, and connect from your other social networking sites (Facebook, LinkedIn) where you can write more than 140 characters. You can undertake market research by asking questions or following trends and topics, tweet your problems to receive immediate solutions or a link to relevant resources, find out the latest news before it breaks, and learn about other people’s thoughts and aspirations on particular subjects.

But all this twittering would be a waste of time if you didn’t have a focus (this is true for all marketing activity). Are you using it for brand awareness, or for research purposes? Do you want more visitors to your website, or to increase the subscriptions to your blog or newsletter? Are you curious enough to keep an eye on your followers, or just chancing on interesting conversations? Many networking meetings have been arranged through Twitter, with business formed from the results. Many conferences and workshops have gained increased attendances through focused twittering, and skills and expert statuses raised from poignant and relevant tweets.

So who now says tweeting is a waste of time?

When you speak, does the room listen?

Chantal

Do you go to networking meetings and leave not remembering what many of other people said they do? Do you go to presentations and stop listening after the first five minutes?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, it’s because the people talking didn’t do enough for you to listen them.

Does the same happen when you speak? Do people forget what you say?

If you answered yes to these two questions, then perhaps it’s time to think about the impact you create when you’re networking and what you say. I’ve seen people start a presentation by telling the audience that they’re nervous and that they’ve never done this before. That just leaves the audience focusing on the nerves of the speaker and not listening to what they say. I meet people at networking meetings who talk and talk about what they do, without telling me anything useful. I stop listening and start wondering how I can get away from them.

So, if you’re nervous, don’t tell the audience, because they probably won’t notice. If you’re really nervous, get some help with speaking in public – Toastmasters International is where I learnt and I recommend it all the time. If you spend networking meetings going on about what you do, without taking a breath, think about how to be concise and what to say to present your business in just a minute – which is only about 120 words.

When you invest time in networking and speaking in public, make sure you get the best return for your investment by making sure that the room listens when you speak.