We’ve all been told at one time or another that "it’s not what you know but who you know" that counts. Now, while there is no substitute for real knowledge and expertise, it certainly helps to have a highly developed network of contacts.
Networking is an art form skilfully practiced by the most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders the world over. The best networkers realise that it's not just about driving short-term sales.
A highly-sophisticated and diverse network can offer so much more. Partnerships, joint ventures, access to expertise, future career opportunities or just lifelong friendships; the possibilities are endless. Networking doesn't come easy to everyone but it is well worth the effort. So, let's take a look at some clever networking strategies to add to your SME business growth repertoire.
1. Write an Elevator Pitch
Nothing trumps face-to-face business networking success. People buy people. Networking with other SME owners can be as important to your business as gaining a new customer. Haggling a good deal from a supplier or distributor, by way of B2B networking, can be as financially important as gaining new customers.
There are key 'dress for success' strategies to have at your disposal when networking. We advise using an elevator pitch for a concise and memorable way to explain your business.
How to work your elevator pitch
- Your elevator pitch should attend to who you are, what you do, the problem your business solves, who your customers are or who they are likely to be, and what makes you different from similar businesses to yours.
- Write it down, memorise it, share it in nuanced ways with a variety of meet and greet candidates, and see what works best in the eyes a prospective contact.
- Make it memorable and deliver it with confidence.
2. Get Out There
Networking and other industry events are the perfect place to polish your pitch and press the flesh. Make them part of your routine. Identify the events which fit the bill and set yourself a reasonable target for regular attendance.
Be Selective - Time is Money
The key to effective network eventing is to be selective. You can't spend all of your time schmoozing, so work hard at identifying the right types of event for you and then hit them regularly.
- Subscriptions to your Local Enterprise Office LEO, Chamber of Commerce, the RDS, National Convention Centre and the like, will inform you of upcoming events and trade shows direct to your inbox.
Choose Industry-specific events that are relevant to you.
Invitation-only events are nice-to-haves especially if you are ambitious to be amongst the in-club. That said, most SMEs will profit more from matching an event to its focus and business size.
When it comes down to it, convenience and cost are likely to be deciding factors when it comes to defining your networking calendar. Remember, that time is money and when you do hit an event, squeeze it for all it is worth.
3. Be Generous
The best networkers know that it's not just about shaking hands and swapping cards in the hopes of finding your next client. Networking is a two-way street and if you give you will receive!
Be an active player in your local business scene. Volunteer and attend local events that give back to the business and local community. Share your time and your expertise.
Working your generous business persona
- Consider becoming a member of your local chamber of commerce and volunteer your time.
- Say 'yes' to speaking engagements, guest blogs and attending events. Even if they won't lead to a direct sale tomorrow; building your profile and personal brand are key to effective networking.
Think of hosting events yourself. You don't need to wait for the ideal networking event to come along. Build your own and make it exactly the type of event you are looking for.
Be warm and sociable. Sponsor a local children's sports team. Have a coffee morning fundraiser. Donate to a favoured charity. The return on generosity for businesses often outweighs the costs.
4. Connect Online
For most business owners, there aren't enough hours in the day. Running a successful SME is more than a full-time job.
But even if you struggle to find the time to get to as many 'real world' events as you'd like, technology can be a powerful tool in your efforts to build a world-class network.
You can use networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to connect with key people around the world. It all depends on what you do and who you want to reach.
Join industry-specific forums and other online communities relevant to your business. You can even start your own.
Attend virtual events. In the digital age, things like webcasts, webinars, video-conferences and tele-seminars can very effective ways to connect with new people.
Like most things, when it comes to networking, you get what you put in. It’s up to you to determine how you want to spend your time and money. Remember, networking is an investment in your business. If you follow our tips it could yield great results for years to come.
If you're planning on exhibiting at an up-coming trade show or hitting an overseas conference, then Linked Finance can provide business loans to cover just such an investment. Give us a call today on 01 906 0300.