Until a few years ago, networking was a foreign concept, having never really done any "networking" in my life (or so I thought)
Since starting my own business, thebestof Sudbury, networking has and, will continue to be, an integral part of my business; Not just for myself, but for the growth of my clients.
What is Networking?
But what exactly is this "networking" that we hear so often in business and at college? We're told networking is important and you really should do it if you want to grow your business, meet the right contacts or get a step up in the world of work.
Quite simply, it's connecting with professionals and swapping information. It's about meeting people and developing professional relationships. In the competitive world of work, so often it's not what you know but who you know. The more relevant people you meet and connect with, the more potential you have to reach your goals.
What do you want out of networking?
You also need to think about what you want to achieve from networking. For some, it's to get more customers, for others it's finding local suppliers. For many, like myself who work by ourselves, it's a wonderful way to connect with people you can learn from & inspire you. If you're struggling with a particular issue, networking is great way to meet that person who's been there, done that and bought the t-shirt.
However, you need to be mindful that your ideal client or job opportunity might not be in the room, however, that elusive decision maker may be well known to that one person you meet as you walk through the door.
What types of networking are out there and how will I know if it'll suit my needs?
There are so many different networking meetings, with different formats, held at different times. Which one works best for you, your business or career is based on your needs and your schedule. You don't need to go to every event. See what works for you.
There's a fantastic variety of networking events out there in Suffolk. The best way to find out is by asking others. Facebook groups such as Suffolk Business Stars or Suffolk 500 have some prolific networkers who can offer advice and point you in the right direction. If you're a student wanting to get out there, there are many networking organisations that would happily introduce you to the world of networking. Expert Circles Sudbury breakfast meeting welcomes Sixth Formers to visit and often holds the meeting at Thomas Gainsborough School Sixth Form. The Business Women's Network & ISSBA offer a discounted rate for students. I'd be delighted to welcome any student or new networker at any of my thebestof Sudbury events. If in doubt, just email the organiser.
A Room full of Strangers and Dread
If the thought of walking into a room full of strangers, with only your wits and brand new business cards, fills you with dread, take comfort in that you're not alone. So, I've asked around on your behalf and put together the top tips for new networkers.
Thank you to all the businesses that took the time to share their expertise and experience:
1. Recently, I was at a 4Networking meeting at Stoke by Nayland. 4N MD, Michael Nagles stood up to share his tips for getting the most out of networking within 4N. The top piece of advice I'd like to share is that when you meet someone for the first time, make it all about them. Ask them all the questions, even if you say very little about yourself. That might seem counterintuitive, but the first impression you'll give is that you were interested in that person and you're more likely to be remembered.
2. Related to point 1, don't rush in there and aggressively sell you or your business. In fact, most networkers advise you don't sell at all. Think of networking as a first date, rather than a marriage proposal. You're getting to know people, rather than selling at them - frankly that just puts people off
3. If networking for the first time, let the organiser know you've never done this before. They will look after you and introduce you to friendly people. Don't arrive late, in fact arrive early and get a good feel for the place. Bring some business cards and be ready to summarise what you do/ what you're after in a sentence
4. If you're worried about not knowing what to say, think of some general pre-planned questions. Remember, people love talking about themselves and their business, so open questions are a good way to break the ice.
5. Don't think of networking as what I want, but concentrate on what you could do for everyone you meet.
6. Be yourself and don't try to be someone you're not. Not only is it exhausting for you, but people will see through it and wonder what you're trying to hide
7. Remember, most people who go networking were once nervous (or still are) and they want this to work for you. In my experience, I've found most people want to help. If they don't, move on
8. A salient piece of advice that was offered is be the person you'd like to meet. Be polite, don't interrupt, be interested, make eye contact and don't offer your business card until asked.
9. Don't expect fast results from networking. You need time to build those relationships and trust amongst other professionals. Follow up with everyone you have met at the meeting, even if it's just a quick email to let them know it was lovely to meet them. If there was a particularly interesting connection you'd like to pursue further, ask them for a meeting and suggest you'll buy the coffee.
10. Although attending networking meetings is a structured and efficient way to meet likeminded professionals, don't dismiss those useful people right under your nose; Family members, friends, cousins, your old history teacher, all these people could know someone who could make all the difference to your business or career.
So, grab those opportunities, don't be afraid to ask for help or for a particular contact. Be polite, be respectful of everyone and follow up.
If you'd like to attend any of thebestof Sudbury's networking events, you can email through the contact us button on the site. I have a list of other local networking events here.
If you any networking tips you'd like to share, please let me know!
Other useful articles about networking for beginners
Member since: 17th March 2014
Hello! I'm Penny from thebestof Sudbury, shouting about the best local businesses from Hadleigh through the Clare. When I'm not doing that, you'll find me knitting socks or tending to my 6 chickens