Making the most of your networking: Three top tips

Business Buzz for Birmingham & Warwickshire

As the Birmingham & Warwickshire Regional Lead for the no fuss networking brand of Business Buzz, I am constantly being asked for tips & hacks to being a better business networker. So here are the three things I talk about most when asked:

Networking is not selling:

We all hate being sold at! How often do you go & make a cup of tea during advert breaks on TV or skip through them completely on demand?

Going networking is not going selling! What it should be about is having genuine conversations & building trusted relationship that then lead to opportunity. I am often asked by potential visitors to Business Buzz if someone else from their sector will be attending, & where the answer is “yes”, more often than not that person does not show.

In reality the networking that I organise is drop-in so by definition I never know who will be in attendance in advance.

Sadly, so many people fear their competitors because their approach is focused on snagging the next sale. It is true to say that “to stay viable you have to stay visible”, but my ideal expert may not be your ideal solution or the next person’s. It is more memorable to have the right expert in your wider network to whom you can refer potential business.

I believe that If you are confident in your service, your brand, your pricing & your product, then you don’t need to sell because your passion & enthusiasm & the genuine desire to help will shine through. You will be remembered, people will make introductions & want to collaborate.  

Know why you are networking

Not everyone visits networking events for the same reasons. So, it is really important to know why you are attending. Develop a networking strategy.

Firstly, attending any networking should form part of your working day. If you choose to network then it should be an integral part of your marketing plan.

Be selective in what you do. Find a format that works best for you. Business Buzz is informal & relaxed in style with a commitment you create for yourself & it’s pay as you go. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but for many people it offers a tonic to the strict regimes operated by many membership networking organisations.

Secondly, don’t focus on a quick return on investment. Networking is a long-term strategy. Yes! There may be some instant wins, but to build your business, your reputation & your credibility you need to be remembered for all the right reasons. This takes time & it is a while before others business owners will think about what you do intuitively & make those all-important introductions.

And thirdly, not everyone is looking for customers or looking to buy. From personal experience I know that being a solo entrepreneur can be lonely & isolating. My reason for networking is to meet other small business owners, to have conversations with like-minded people & to have a sounding board for ideas & concerns. My partner, although supportive, has never really understood the complexities of why & how I do what I do or the challenges being a self-employed small business owner presents. Getting away from my home office, the day-to-day tasks & talking to similar people to myself helps create re-assurance in what I am doing, builds my confidence, helps me find solutions & makes me more robust for future challenges.

Networking has allowed me to develop a brilliant & reliable support network. When I started my business my primarily driver for networking was not to sell my services. It was to support my mental health & to my build both my personal & business brand awareness.

The real magic happens later

It is great to meet lots of people when out & about networking, but what happens on the day is very superficial. The real magic happens afterwards.

As the host of the monthly Business Buzz for Birmingham I encourage my visitors to schedule an hour long 121 with at least two of the people that met on the day. 121s are more engaging if they take place over coffee & cake (these days always virtually or socially distanced, although virtual cake is nowhere as exciting as the real thing).

Each 121 meeting should be no longer than an hour & with the conversation split evenly. This is the opportunity to find-out in more details about someone else’s business or circumstances & for them to get the measure of you. These conversations should be free flowing & natural. Always look to ask question, listen & then wait to be asked about what you do for work or business.

There is no harm in having a straightforward agenda. Both sides may have specific things they want to discuss or mention & that is perfectly OK. If you agree to an action, such as making an introduction to another business owner, set an expectation as to when you will be able to achieve this. Personally, I like to do introductions & referrals by email & then let both parties’ pick-up conversation with one another separately.

The real power behind the 121 is that both sides have invested time (& possibly cake) to find out about one another. You will have created a better understanding of each other, as well what you do & who potentially the ideal customers might be. The more times you do 121s the stronger your network becomes, the more trusted you are, & the more recommendations you will receive.

To conclude

There are so many networking opportunities available. It does not matter the format or style of a particular event, you will only you reap what you sow. Keep other people engaged, by avoiding the sell, know the reason for being at an event & follow-up with people who can add value to your network or business.

James Brodie
Business Buzz for Birmingham & Warwickshire