Business Networking - and the keys to maximising your Time and Opportunities

Building your network can make a big difference to small businesses. Working on our own, whether at home, in a co-working space or even a coffee shop, it can be hard going. Staying motivated, focused and actually achieving everything on our to do list can feel like a real challenge, so taking time out of the business to network, or attend a local learning event or seminar can seem counterintuitive.

But actually, it is something that we all should make time to do.

Whether you are a B2B or B2C company, people buy from people. In this day and age, we could easily go for days interacting with others from behind a screen. Which for some (and in my case when I’m doing anything marketing related) can be a welcome security blanket! But sometimes we can get lost in the admin and actual day to day running of our businesses that we can forget WHY we are doing what we are doing in the first place.

That’s where Networking events can really help. Because everyone in the room is just as passionate as we are, and connecting and discussing with others can give us a welcome boost.

So, if you are thinking about attending a networking event, or even have attended lots and perhaps are feeling a little networked out, here are some ways you can embrace networking, for the benefit of your brand and your business.

1. Find the events that suit your brand

We are lucky here in the Surrey area that we have lots of events to choose from. But which ones will be the best for you? First of all, work out what you want to achieve from such an event. Do you want to meet potential clients, or similar businesses to yours that you can learn from or collaborate with? Are you looking to find businesses of different genres with similar ideal clients to yours who you can work alongside? Or, just as important, do you want to get out from behind a screen and learn some new skills, hear more about a social media platform or find out what works for others?

Once you decide, you can then look at the options available. Here in Surrey, we have events at all times of day, and on lots of different themes. Some groups are sit down and give you the opportunity to talk about your business or brand to the room, others are networking then a seminar then more networking, and some are simply networking. They can also vary in price, so take some time to research and ask advice from people that have attended the sessions you are interested in.

2.Think about what you are going to say

An 'Elevator Pitch' is what you would say to a Senior Executive or Investor if you had the chance to meet them in an elevator. That's a great way of thinking about introductions at networking events, because it's guaranteed that you are going to be asked you what you do. I’d really recommend practicing and honing your reply beforehand, especially if you're a little nervous. Some events allow you time to stand up and introduce yourself, and if they do, make sure it is short, sweet and to the point. And an added bonus if you make it memorable! It could also be relevant to mention here who your ideal client is, which can open the door for further conversations with those businesses that share your target audience.

3. Do your homework

Some networking groups send out a list of who will be attending beforehand. If they do, make sure you have a look through, spend a little time and find out who is going to be there that you’d love to chat to, and have a think about any questions you might want to ask them. If the event organisers don’t send out such a list, some events have groups on social media. If you can chat with delegates beforehand, so it doesn’t seem quite so scary walking in on your own. Or if numbers allow, go along with a friend!

4. Swop details

Make sure you take your business cards or relevant marketing materials along to the event. Business cards are the quickest way to swop details, although I did see a nifty way of using LinkedIn to connect with people in your close proximity - perfect for networking events. Thank you for the heads up on that one Nicola Macdonald from Attractive Marketing! And if you have something you are promoting, make sure you have that information to hand. Business cards that are a little quirky or stand out can always be a talking point, so have a think about how you can link in your brand values in here too.

5. Follow up your conversations

One of the most important things you should do after an event is to follow up. Whether it is that evening or the following morning, reach out to those who you spoke to, and connect on LinkedIn. You have had a conversation with them, so keep that conversation open. Whether they will go on to become your clients or not, they might well point you in the direction of some valuable information or perhaps send some referrals your way, so cultivating such relationships is important.

6. Show up regularly

It can take time to build relationships. Networking events are a little like speed dating, and it takes time for the ‘Know, Like, Trust’ analogy to play out. Also, I know I never get to speak to everyone I want to speak to at events, so I’m guessing it must be the same the other way around too. And by showing up regularly, you can have more of those conversations, and start to build trust with your community.

7. Evaluate

After each event, as yourself, did you feel that it was time well spent? Think about your reasons for attending, what worked well, of if you would you do anything differently next time. It may take a little time to find out which events are the best fit for both you and your business, but if you enjoy such an event, you are on the right track! If you do have any feedback you could give to the organiser about your experience, i’m sure they’d love to chat to you about that too.

So there you go. I hope I have inspired you to look out some events going on near you. It really isn't as scary as you think, I promise!

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

With love, Rachel xx

Ps. If you are in Surrey, here are a few events that I really enjoy:

* RH Networking - Informal evening networking event at various locations around the RH area. Great for those new to networking, and free of charge. https://www.rhnetworking.co.uk

* Reigate and Banstead - Learning Lunches - Reigate - Networking and brilliant talks given by local entrepreneurs and businesses, followed by a light lunch and more networking. Free events, generally the third Wednesday of the month 12-2. Book up early as these are popular! http://www.reigate-banstead.gov.uk/info/20052/business_in_the_borough/182/how_we_can_support_your_business/3

* Mole Valley District Council - Network and Learn - Dorking - Networking and brilliant talks given by local entrepreneurs and businesses, followed by a light lunch and more networking. Free events, generally the first Tuesday of the month 12-2 www.mvdcbusiness.eventbrite.com

* RRR - Reigate and Redhill Referrals - Reigate - Bimonthly breakfast meeting hosted by Kevin Horlock. For details, contact Kevin@horlock.net

* Other Small Business Events http://www.reigate-banstead.gov.uk/info/20052/business_in_the_borough/182/how_we_can_support_your_business/2

If you are a Photographer in the area, you are welcome to come along to our BIPP South East Meetings - Woking, generally 4th Wednesday of the month. http://www.bipp.com/southeast

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Rachel Thornhill ABIPP ASWPP LMPA  - Beautiful story-telling photography and stunning wall art for fun loving people, Rachel is an award-winning professional portrait Photographer based in Lower Kingswood / Tadworth, Surrey, UK.    Tel: +44 (0)1737 244745     

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