As a business owner or entrepreneur, it’s likely that professional networking is a key part of your business growth strategy and marketing plan. There are many advantages to business networking including; business development, building connections, finding inspiration and growing your confidence, too.
But not everyone is keen to embrace business networking, preferring to make business connections through social media such as LinkedIn and perhaps in a less ‘organised’ or formal environment. Networking benefits range from the tangible – new clients or customers – to the less tangible – interacting with other businesses in order to build and foster relationships over time. Building strong relationships can help you to learn, solve problems and in turn, develop your own business.
Networking can be seen as stuffy, or perhaps even too ‘face to face’ for some – but the advantages of networking are manyfold, and the more you go to networking events, the more you’re likely to see growth and engagement, and even find new clients or customers. The key is working out how to make business networking work for you. We have 7 key tips to support you on your networking adventure..
What is business networking?
Essentially, business networking is whenever you meet and interact with other businesses. Business networking involves talking about your work, sharing ideas and perhaps most importantly, listening to other businesses describe what they do and offer.
Business networking can range from the very formal to the hugely informal. There are events where you can pay a one-off entry price and chat informally, through to business networking groups which have an annual or monthly membership.
Is business networking the same as professional networking?
While networking might seem like an outdated word, essentially when we talk about business networking or professional networking we’re talking about meeting in person, discussing work and business ideas with like-minded people, meeting new connections and socialising with people who might either want to do business with you or might potentially, recommend you to someone at another networking event. It’s also about building up a pool of associates that you can rely on to enhance the services that you offer.
For many people, business networking can imply that you are a business with a number of staff, or perhaps a team that works together in an office, compared to professional networking which might imply a ‘entrepreneur’ element. However, the two are interchangeable, and it’s up to you which phrase you choose to use.
Making new business connections work for you
The most important reason to network as a professional is of course to make new business connections. This is, after all, about building awareness about what you do and offer, and understanding what the other businesses in the room do and offer.
In order to make the most of networking events, you need to ensure that you speak to as many people as possible, sharing what you do and informally offering your info or taking their details.
Benefits of networking for your business
Networking benefits both you and your business – from your connections to your confidence.
You know your niche well, of course. And it may be that you are clear about it on your website and social media. But speaking to others face to face at a business networking event is the best way to explain your offering. When you speak about what you do, it comes across in a genuine way, and that is often the stepping stone between the words on your website or business card and the human element – you! – behind the business.
Practice makes perfect! Knowing how to network and how to improve your networking skills means that, with every meet up you go to, you are fine-tuning your ‘pitch’ and becoming better known as ‘the’ person to speak to in your business niche.
Don’t forget, networking benefits for your business and as a professional are often non-tangible, over and above those direct connections who might want to immediately discuss doing business together. The key is to talk openly and confidently about your business and ask them questions about theirs. You never know when your product or service might be required in the future and you want your business to be your new connection’s first thought.
Seven key networking tips
Embrace business networking, improve your networking skills and make the most of every event that you attend
1. Be prepared
One of the advantages of networking in person is it goes hand in hand with online networking, and you can get ahead of the game by looking up the guest or attendees list. You might find that there are certain people you want to try and speak to and get to know. Being aware of what they look like, perhaps from a profile, or finding out about their business gives you a conversation starter. Send a connection request with a note before you attend, too, or follow them on social media.
2. Plot your route
The last thing you want to do when going to a new business or professional networking event is to be late, flustered and stressed out! Knowing where you’re going, and how to get from, for example, the train station to the venue, means you’ll arrive ready to network rather than ready to collapse.
3. Practice your introduction
One for in front of the mirror, or in the car on the way there – yes, we’re suggesting you speak outloud! Saying what you do, outloud, and rehearsing how you describe your business means that when you arrive at the networking event, you’re ready to introduce yourself without fluffing your ‘lines’. This is one of the best ways to improve your networking skills as you’ll come across as professional and in the know.
4. Nurture new business connections as well as old ones
Of course, you want to catch up with people you know, and continue to build those business connections, but you also want to try and widen your business contacts. With that in mind, make sure you aren’t just hanging out with your established business contacts.
5. Ask leading questions
Having some key questions prepared is a good way to alleviate the nerves if you’re new to a networking group, as well as opening up the conversation. While, of course, you want to be telling them about you and your work, it’s also about listening. A leading question could be: ‘What do you enjoy most about your work?’ or ‘What’s the best thing for you about being self-employed?’. You’re tapping into their feelings as well as asking about their business.
6. Take business cards or flyers, but don’t give them out like a leaflet drop!
Yes, we should all be sharing our details, but sharing information should be at the end of a conversation rather than the start. Shoving your business card in their face is going to be off putting. Instead, be chatty and informal, speak about your business and ask them about theirs. Then, naturally, one of you will ask if you’d like to swap details. Be prepared here, too – make sure you have enough cards, that they are easy to get to (for example in a particular pocket or part of your bag, or, better still, in a specific business card holder) and clear to read. If you don’t have cards, then be prepared with a QR code on your phone that leads to your website or social media platform.
7. Follow up and secure new business connections
The final piece of the puzzle is the ‘after party’, that is, getting in touch and carrying on the business connection once the event has finished. A follow up email with more information or a LinkedIn request with a note are both simple ways to continue to develop the relationship following on from your networking event. You’ll come across as professional and friendly and be encouraged to go to more events as you see your network grow organically each time you do.
Local networking groups
Bloxham Mill are proud sponsors of The Oxfordshire Big Buzz Networking Event 2023, which takes place on Thursday 20th April. We have been long-standing attendees of the networking group and have used the community that we have built over time to learn, and raise our business profile locally. Attending business Buzz on a regular basis has enabled us to gain long-standing clients and find trustworthy suppliers. We now have a group of inspiring professionals whom we can turn to if we have an idea to discuss or a challenge to solve.
Networking at Bloxham Mill
We host regular networking events at Bloxham Mill for clients and members. These events take place once a month and act as an opportunity for the businesses at Bloxham Mill to develop relationships, share ideas and feel part of a community. To keep updated with our latest events, news and blogs sign up to our newsletter below.