Has anyone ever told you to “put yourself out there”?
If yes, you likely heard it from a well-meaning friend while despairing about your love life (or lack of).
But if the last time you attended a networking event was pre-2020, you’re going to hear it from us too. Networking is back on the agenda!
Building networks among local businesses is a powerful tool that provides value for your business and your personal life.
What is Business Networking?
Business networking involves socializing with professionals in your industry with the intention of establishing mutually beneficial relationships. You can tap into these relationships to gain new business, identify new vendors, and get advice to help you run your business.
Networking usually takes place at dedicated events, such as local business meet-ups, trade shows, or conferences. Traditionally this is in-person, but online networking events are an option too.
7 Benefits of Building a Business Network
Think networking is simply undercover selling? Think again! Building a local business network has many benefits, such as:
1. Win More Business
As mentioned, this isn’t the only benefit, but it is a good one. As well as being an enjoyable social event, networking is also a chance to secure new business for your company. As you forge new connections and your network expands, so too does your pool of potential customers. This pool includes the people you meet directly, but also casts your net much wider. Each person you meet likely has an extensive network of their own which you can leverage. By gaining the trust of the contacts you make, they’re more likely to refer you to people within their own network who need the solutions you provide. Never underestimate how powerful this can be—executives reveal they’d lose 28% of their business if they stopped networking. For the best chance to find new clients, you need to ensure you’re moving in the right circles—more on that later.
2. Learn From Others
Networking is an effective way to keep your finger on the pulse of local business news and important updates in your industry. Treat everyone you meet as a learning opportunity. Even if someone is less experienced than you, they will still have valuable insight to share. Each conversation has the potential to be a precious source of industry news, solutions to shared challenges, and tips for success.
3. Create Relationships
Given 88% of B2B buyers are more likely to buy from someone they view as a “trusted advisor,” it’s clear to see why creating meaningful connections is good for business. However, your social life can receive a boost too. Networking events are a common source of newly-forged friendships. Who says you can’t mix business and pleasure?
4. Improve Your People Skills
Effective communication is key to business success, with 86% of professionals citing ineffective communication as a reason for failure in the workplace. Networking events pose the perfect opportunity to hone your interpersonal skills. Think of it as a fitness class for your communication abilities—the more you work the muscle, the stronger it gets.
5. Build Your Brand
Just as your website, social channels, and marketing collateral all represent your brand, so do you when attending networking events. If you’re found to be personable, trustworthy, and genuine, fellow networkers will gain this same impression of your brand, increasing their confidence in doing business with you.
6. Establish Connection in a Remote World
Although workers have been returning to the office, many are still living the WFH life. 76% of remote workers in the U.S. are working from home as their preference, rather than out of necessity. The downside of this? 60% of the same cohort feel less connected to their co-workers than they did when working in the office. Networking helps to restore some of these lost connections, which can be especially helpful for remote workers.
7. Recruit Your Next Hire
Recruitment right now is no joke. Job openings in the U.S. have hit record highs, which is great for jobseekers but challenging for businesses looking to recruit staff as they compete to win new hires. Those able to leverage existing connections are likely having the most luck—around 85% of positions are filled via networking.
How to Build Networks Among Local Businesses
With so many appetizing benefits to business networking, we’re sure you’re feeling like signing up to every event you can find—but hang fire. To get the most out of networking, there is prep work to do first. Follow these steps to get started:
Identify Your Audience
Like most things in sales and marketing, you shouldn’t take a randomized approach to networking. Instead, identify what sort of businesses and individuals would be useful within your network. These are ones where mutual benefit is possible. They must be able to provide value for you, but you must also provide value for them to maintain an effective business relationship. Almost half of professionals (49%) say that they don’t have enough time to network, so by identifying your audience you ensure you don’t waste additional time—yours, or those whom you are networking with.
Join Existing Business Networks
Once you’ve defined your audience, the next step is to scope out existing local business networks. Find them via:
- Local Chamber of Commerce
Before joining, look at past events and attendees to ensure they align with your target audience. Pay attention to the topic of the event too— is it relevant to your business?
Join Online Business Networks
IRL networks are the best (stats show most people prefer face-to-face communication) but online has benefits too. Although they may not prefer online networking, it’s clearly more convenient, as 40% of people say they network more online than in real life. LinkedIn is the obvious choice, and its merits proven as over 35% of LinkedIn users say casual conversations from LinkedIn have resulted in new opportunities. Before embarking on online networking, it’s wise to refine your personal brand. An impeccable LinkedIn profile is key—check out these tips from LinkedIn themselves for guidance.
Be Picky About Which Events You Attend
It’s tempting to attend as many events as possible to max out the number of connections you make. But if the wrong people are there, or the subject is irrelevant, it can be a waste of your precious time. If possible, check who has signed-up to attend the event in advance. Ask yourself, do they align with your target networking group? Is the subject matter relevant to your business expertise and your products or services? If not, perhaps it isn’t the event for you.
Prepare Your Elevator Pitch
Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail may seem like a dumb quip, but it really is true. The first impression you make upon fellow networkers can be make or break, so set yourself up for success by preparing in advance. Practice your elevator pitch before attending your first few events to ensure you’re comfortable with what you’re saying. Try and summarize who you are and what you do in 60 seconds or less. Having this basic conversation starter nailed will helps you turn on the charm and boost your confidence working the room.
Don’t Forget the Follow-Up
After the buzz of a networking event, it’s easy to leave on a high, congratulate yourself on the connections you made…then fail to speak to them again until the next event. If you’re just looking for an excuse to socialize, this approach is fine. But given you’re likely hoping to get more out of networking events than just a buddy to chat to while you sip complementary coffee, you’re going to need to follow-up. Whether you’ve exchanged business cards, traded emails, or connected on LinkedIn, make sure after each event you send a follow-up message. For example:
It was great to meet you at the Women in Business event on Thursday!
Fingers crossed they have those delicious macaroons at the next one too.
Are you still looking for accounting software? Ours has some new features that I think could really help you with the problems you were having.
Let me know if you’d like to grab coffee.
Now, let’s break this message down, as there’s a winning formula here for you to follow. The essential components of a compelling follow-up message are:
- Event you met at
- Date of the event
- A reference to something you spoke about together (in this instance, tasty catering)
- Identify a pain point, either one you spoke about together, or one you’ve since noticed (for example, something they’ve shared on their LinkedIn profile)
- Explain how you can help solve their problem
- Invite to next steps, whether that be a phone call, video call, or coffee
Including these elements helps your recipient to remember who you are, why they enjoyed chatting with you, and how you can help. Never underestimate the power of a small personal touch.
Enough Reading, Get Networking!
Now you’re equipped with a local business networking action plan, all that’s left to do is get started. The sooner you begin, the more connections you will make. And remember, if you’re not yet ready for face-to-face, online opportunities can be extremely beneficial too.
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