Business Networking Review

Do you ever go and out and attend business networking events? Ever considered it?

The last I heard around 9% of UK businesses invest time and money in business networking events, and mine is one of them.

I started my website design business in around July of 2014 and networking has been my main source of prospecting.

I began as a complete unknown. That is to say, I did not bring clients with me from a former company, I didn’t start part-time and build up slowly and I don’t have premises that are likely to draw enquiries from passing pedestrians. I have had to do things the hard way, since for a good while I was practically invisible from a business perspective.

Of course, business networking has not been the only marketing tool at my disposal; I have used mailshots, flyers, cold telephone calling, social media and blogging as well; each with its own dollop of frustration and slivers of success. However, it is networking that has begun to yield the most consistent and interesting results.

I was warned from the outset that networking – the weekly attendance of meetings consisting of other local business people, all touting their wares – was a slow burn. And so it has proved to be.

I was also informed by old-hands and have discovered for myself that the real trick to networking is not to treat every meeting as a pitch-fest. Instead, expect to build relationships; even friendships, over a longer period and be sure to set time aside, away from the organised events, to have one-to-ones with individuals/companies that may be of interest to you.

This I have done (example here) and there have been a couple of surprises that have come out of it.

Firstly, I have been taken aback by the degree to which people open up in one-to-ones and tell you all about their businesses circumstances and travails. People are often very honest. For some a one-to-one seems almost like a confessional and they appear almost compelled to tell you about their turnover, weaknesses, staffing arrangements and future business plans. Some of those spilling the beans even include people working in rival businesses.

This is all very handy, since to a small extent, if you play your cards right, you will get the opportunity to model other people’s success and avoid their mistakes.

The second thing that surprised me a bit, though it probably should not have, is the potential commercial value of spending time with direct, or near, rivals. By doing so I have not only rapidly learned that others are having identical challenges to the ones that I am having, but it has frequently been the case that serious working relationships, partnerships, or even actual paying jobs have been offered or suggested during one-to-ones.

These kind of opportunities generally don’t arrive in the early weeks of an individual’s networking journey, but for me they have steadily come along, just as those experienced networkers told me they would.

So, where has business networking got me at six months in?

Well, for a start I now know lots of local business people in and around Luton. I know who to call when I want any particular services done well.

Further, it’s a source of free snippets of advice from experts in other professions and trades and occasionally services are on offer at mate’s rates.

I have had paying business from networking; some of which has come right out of the blue, and the leads are growing in number too. In addition, I have developed a good working relationship with at least one company and there is a full-on strategic partnership in the offing between myself and two other small companies. We are going to team-up on a major on-going project.

My conclusions to date are that, as advertised, networking really is a slow burn, but it does work. It is also the case that like my old school reports used to say ‘he could try harder’. If there is one thing that is better than networking once per week, it’s networking two or three times per week. That will have to be my mission; at least in the short term.

The thing is. I am not in love with networking, it generally means getting up early in the morning, travelling to a venue and polishing the week’s elevator pitch as I go. It can be a little tedious and it does occupy quite a bit of time and it costs money, but the upside is that I am no longer invisible in the local business community and I have work coming in and that makes it worthwhile.

If you are new to networking, or are considering doing it, but are apprehensive, feel free to contact me and ask any questions – especially if you are local. We could even meet up.

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