Taking the time to attend a networking meeting can bring many positive returns. It can raise awareness of your brand, build trust in you, provide support and new ideas to try, as well as starting mutually beneficial business relationships.
Exchange business cards
The first, and most obvious, step to a successful networking meeting is to take plenty of business cards along. Remember, it is a give-and-take experience, so don’t forget to ask people for their cards too. Prepare a succinct summary of what you do that will get your message across quickly and clearly.
Don’t launch into a hard sell about your products or services. This will put others off and they may avoid you in the future. The point of networking is to build good relationships over time that will pay mutual dividends.
Mutual benefits from networking
Ask about other people’s businesses. They may not be directly interested in your services and vice versa, but if you are friendly and build a rapport, they may recommend you to others who do want your help down the line. Similarly, you may be able to recommend them to your contacts, building a relationship that will pay dividends over time.
It may sound counterintuitive, but to gain the most from networking, you need to give too.
People buy from people they trust and regularly attending a networking group will help you build that trust with others. If you speak authoritatively about your product or service, they will value you as an expert and be more likely to come to you when they need what you do.
Offer help and support
Don’t expect to get clients straight away from a networking meeting. Listen to what others say about their businesses and think about how you can help them, even if you don’t need what they do. This could take the form of friendly support for their ideas, boosting their confidence, or suggesting ways they could expand that they may not have considered. They will be grateful for your help and more willing to support and recommend you to their own contacts. Consider offering other networking group members a preferential rate for your services.
You may find there are other people there who have a similar business to you. However, try not to see them as a direct competitor. If you take the trouble to speak to them, you may find they specialise in an aspect that you are not so keen on. Perhaps you could point clients to them for that aspect and they may do the same for you with their clients. Or perhaps they will have too much work and recommend you to take it on. Likewise, you could direct additional work to them. Another benefit here is knowledge sharing. They have experience in the same sector and you can share tips on such things as clients to avoid, or how to price your services.
Spread the net
Go to different networking groups. The more people you meet, the more word will spread about what you do and the wider the net of people who can recommend you, and who you can help in turn. Share useful contacts and tips with your new groups and they will be more inclined to share and help you.
Take a similar approach to that used in real-world networking with the online community. Listen to what people are saying on social media and offer help where you can and the benefit of your own experiences. Over time, people will value your support and what you say, and be inclined to buy from you themselves, as well as recommend you and your products to their wider circle of contacts. If they have a positive experience, they will be even more willing to support you and your business.