Networking For Small Business Owners: What You Need To Know

It’s widely accepted that attending industry events, networking and making new contacts is essential when it comes to growing your business. As the saying goes, “you’ve got to network to get work!”. But what’s the best way to see results from your networking?

It seems theres a whole host of opinions on this subject, from the way you shake hands to the side you choose to wear your name badge. However all this guidance can sometimes have the opposite effect – with so many top tips out there for business owners, networking seems pressurised, daunting and more intimidating than it need be.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Networking can be something many of us dread, especially if we don’t feel that we’re natural sales people. But it shouldn’t be this way. Remind yourself that successful networking is not judged on the number of business cards you give out or come away with, it’s about the impression you give and the way you make the people you interact with feel. Spending quality time genuinely engaging with two or three contacts is far more likely to result in business leads than taking a blanket approach and distributing twenty business cards without taking the time to make a connection with the people you meet.

A lot of advice for networking success centres around being ‘memorable’, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be ultra-confident or exceptionally quirky in your approach to networking in order to be remembered. If you start focusing on listening to people, aiming to establish a connection rather than simply trying to generate a business lead with everyone you meet, you’ll have a better time and make a more positive first impression.

Look at it this way: as consumers, we tend to buy from brands, businesses, shops and websites that we like and we tend to remember the companies we like, choosing to buy from them more frequently. So keep this in mind when you meet people and spend time taking a personal approach. If you’ve got a brilliant business proposition, or great competitive prices, you don’t want to spoil this by putting people of at the introduction stage.

Being proud of your products and services is great but don’t be too keen to jump in and talk about your business right away. Instead, take the time to listen to people you meet. If they like you they will want to find out more about your business and are far more likely to remember your company and its offering when it comes to looking at your business card the next day. The best way to put this into practice is to ask questions when you meet people and try not to respond with standard or pre-prepared answers. Instead, try to tailor your responses. This doesn’t mean simply asking ‘what do you do?’ It takes more than this for someone to feel listened to and you’ve got to make an effort. But, if you do, then you should start to see the benefits of networking.

When it comes to following up on a positive first impression it’s widely acknowledged that a good next step is to connect with your contacts on LinkedIn, but have you considered applying the personalised approach here too? Instead of sending a generic automated message, why not opt to send a personalised note to your contacts and make reference to how nice it was to meet them?

Lastly when it comes to networking, remember that it occurs everywhere, in and out of working hours! Your networking skills shouldn’t just be saved for specialist industry events, opportunities are all around you. So always carry your business cards and be ready to apply your personalised approach wherever you are. You could be at the gym, on the train or in a restaurant, the point is you never know where your next business lead could come from. As long as you’re always prepared to listen, take an interest and follow up in a professional, positive and personalised manner you’re much more likely to see leads turn into new business sales.