How much business networking do you do for your company?
I wrote a blog way back in 2015 entitled The Power of Networking, which was about how GrowTraffic had recently started networking in the Rossendale Valley, having moved to the area a year or so earlier. It wasn’t a new venture for us, as such, because we’d done networking previously in other areas, but it was a bit of a revelation to find a community in our new locality that was so much more switched on to the benefits of networking than we’d encountered at our old one.
That’s why, since I wrote that last blog in 2015, networking has become a central pillar of GrowTraffic’s sales and growth strategy, and it’s something that all of the team take part in on a regular basis.
Hence the reason I thought it was about time I updated that old blog. So here it is; The Power of Networking, Part Two!
What Is Business Networking?
Business networking is when businesses and organisations come together in a mutually beneficial way, often with the aim of securing more business for their company. Often this can involve various business from a local area, or businesses within a similar industry or sector, meeting to make new connections, share knowledge and grow their customer base.
And at its heart, that’s all it is; likeminded people coming together to share and do business with each other. Yet it can be so much more than that.
There are many different networking groups out there, from the structured and formal to the very unstructured and most informal. Some of them require you to sit down and have a meal, some you simply stand and mingle. Some have a set format, others don’t. Often there is an information section, where one of the members of the group will give a presentation to the rest of the attendees, with the intention of educating, rather than selling products or services.
Whatever the setup though, the goal is simple; to enable those people who attend to help each other out and grow their own business in return.
Where Can I Find Local Business Networking Groups?
Wherever you live in the country, the chances are there will be several networking groups nearby, all you have to do is find them.
Some networking organisations, such as BoB Clubs, 4 Networking or BNI, are nationwide, with meetings up and down the length and breadth of the UK. These organisations naturally have well optimised websites and a strong social media presence, so usually all you have to do is go to their website and enter your postcode or town, and you will be presented with a list of meetings closest to you.
If you’re looking for something a little smaller and more local, however, such as the Valley at Work networking group that we attend (which is solely for businesses in the Rossendale Valley), then these may be a little less obvious. Nevertheless, usually a simple Google search for ‘networking groups near me’ will find them for you, and you can then contact them to find out more.
Alternatively, you could use social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, to search for local networking groups; LinkedIn in particular has a great search function that will enable you to find relevant organisations quickly and easily.
Or you could always just try good old fashioned asking folk?!
Where Can I Find Friendly Networking Groups?
One of the biggest things that people who are first time networkers worry about is how they will get on and whether or not they will manage the experience. After all, networking can be a daunting prospect, especially if you’re new to business.
Let’s be honest, most of us don’t like to be ‘on show’ and self-promotion is not our bag. OK, you’re there to promote your business, but it’s you who has to stand up in front of a group of people and do the speaking…. something many people understandably dread. However, you can’t let this put you off, as the benefits will far outweigh any perceived negatives if you can push past it.
To begin with, to make things easier for yourself, make sure you go prepared. Have your elevator pitch ready, so that you know what you’re going to say before you get there. Often, you’ll be asked to stand up and tell everyone who you are, what you do and why you’re there, so practice this beforehand, and even write it down to read out if that will help.
Also, make sure you’ve got your business cards with you and any other bumf you want to share, such as your company brochure or even a roller banner.
Many larger organisations will give you a list before the event, often available on the website, of who else will be attending the networking session, so do a bit of research on your fellow attendees before you go, if that will make you feel more comfortable. Maybe have a look at the websites of some of the companies that you think will be able to help you, or connect with individuals on LinkedIn first, so that you will know someone when you get there.
There are also some great resources available online that can help you prepare for your first networking session, such as this article by Wise Bread on Networking for Introverts, so arm yourself with knowledge and prepare before you go in.
Don’t forget though, many people who will be in the room with you will have been a first-time networker at some point too, so they will understand and be on hand to help. Plus, I have never attended a networking group yet where the other folk there weren’t friendly and welcoming towards newcomers, so don’t be shy, go in with a positive attitude and you’re bound to make friends.
And the more you do it, the more confident and practiced you’ll become, until it will just be second nature to stand up and tell a room full of strangers how brilliant your business is.
What Will Business Networking Do For My Business?
Once you’ve got your head around networking, the benefits of it can sometimes be quite remarkable.
Naturally, some businesses will be better fitted to networking than others, however, for the majority of companies, networking really can pay dividends, and not just financially.
The most obvious benefit is that you will make friends. In the last 3 years that I have been going networking, week-in, week-out, I have made new business connections, regular acquaintances and even good friends. Some of them I now regularly meet up with outside of networking, and one of them has even become GrowTraffic’s latest employee!!
I even know a couple who are now happily in a relationship together after meeting in my networking group, so you never know what may come of it!
The key is to be warm and friendly and follow up with people after the meeting has finished, either by connecting on social media or arranging a follow up one-to-one meeting with them. It’s also crucial that you attend the meetings as often as you possibly can, because that builds trust and the beneficial relationships will develop naturally from there.
And always remember that networking should be a two-way street, so give as much as you take from the relationships you build from networking, and others will pay you back in kind.
Of course, another big benefit of building these key networking relationships is that you will get more business out of it, which, after all, is the main goal of networking. If other business people get to know you and your business over the course of months and years, they will know that you are trustworthy and deliver on your promises, and so will recommend you to others they know, which is the best way of building a loyal customer base.
At this point though, it’s worth remembering that sometimes the referrals may not come to you directly from within the meetings themselves, but may come through in more indirect ways. For example, GrowTraffic recently received a new enquiry via our website, which we had at first considered to be simply an online lead, but when I asked him how he’d found us, it turned out we’d been recommended by someone from one of my networking groups.
And of course, whether direct or indirect, these types of recommended, word-of-mouth referrals are the holy grail of marketing and sales, because they are much more likely to be quality or qualified leads from a customer ready to purchase your product or service, so your chances of securing a sale are almost guaranteed from the start. It’s win-win basically.
So, although networking can sometimes feel like a slow burner, if you stick at it and persevere with building those valuable relationships, you will inevitably benefit from it in the long run. But don’t forget to ask your new customers how they found you, however, otherwise you’ll never find out who might have been recommending you to others!
How Much Does Networking Cost?
The actual costs of networking can vary greatly, usually depending on the type of networking organisation you choose to go with. For example, GrowTraffic is a full-time member of two networking groups, for which we pay an annual fee for the general administration and membership (usually between £250 – £350 per year), supplemented by a fee at each meeting to cover the costs of the food and other little extras (between £12 – £15 per meeting).
However, there are alternatives if you’re a new start-up or simply want to give networking a try to see if you like it, so search around to find free or cheaper alternatives. As I mentioned earlier, in addition to the two above, we’re also members of a Rossendale networking group, Valley at Work, which has still managed to bring us new business and many friends in the local area – plus led to other work and non-work related projects and events – despite being much less formal and totally free to attend.
Either way though, you get out of networking what you put into it so, whatever your initial outlay costs might be, if you stick at it, attend regularly, make those positive connections and behave reciprocally (i.e. give out referrals and recommendations as well as receiving them), then you will inevitably reap the rewards.
Again, to use GrowTraffic as an example, we can recoup our networking fees with just one good client, so we’ve often made back the upfront costs within a couple of months. Networking, for us, is well worth the effort. Plus, it gets us all out of the office for a bit!
And just to prove the point of how crucial networking can be to a business’ growth, we recently had a look at just how much of our revenue is derived from networking, and we reckon at least 60% – 70% of our customer base has come to us via networking, either directly or indirectly. In fact, we recently had a month off all networking activity, due to staff illnesses over the winter, and we really noticed the impact in our bottom line. Both enquiries and referrals decreased after just 4 weeks off, and it took us a good couple of weeks to get back into the swing of things.
Come And Network With GrowTraffic
So, if you’ve never tried networking before but you think it might be something you should have a go at, then why not come along with one of us to the networking groups we attend?
All the GrowTraffic team are out and about networking every single week, and we’re part of BoB Clubs, 4Networking and Valley at Work. We also intermittently attend networking groups run by the FSB and Chamber of Commerce, as well as the odd BNI or Shout Network group.
Plus, as we’re a cross-Pennine company, we go networking in Haslingden, Burnley, Chorley, Preston, Manchester, Salford, Rawtenstall, Rotherham, Sheffield, Leeds – and more besides! Wherever you go, you’ll probably bump in to one of us.
So why not pop along and say ‘Hi’, or contact us first and tag along with us?
If you’d like to find out more about networking with GrowTraffic, or just more about what we do in general, then please get in touch with us today. You can contact us via the website, by phoning 0161 706 0012 or by emailing [email protected].