Sometimes the hardest part of launching a new business can be publicising your products and services. For many small businesses, myself included, the marketing costs when starting can be overwhelming, and it can be challenging to get your brand in front of an audience without substantial marketing budgets.
When I started, I took advantage of every opportunity that I could – even the ones I wasn’t so sure of and found that an excellent place to start was networking. Now for many, it can be scary – the thought of walking into a room full of people that you don’t know and introducing yourself while second nature to some can be terrifying for others. So while you may find the thought fills you with dread and you question whether or not it will make a difference to your business lets’ look at what you can do to make it work for you.
- Take someone with you – If you feel nervous about attending an event, then make sure you take someone with you. It is much easier if you have someone to talk to rather than sitting there twiddling your thumbs waiting for someone to talk to you.
- Have plenty of business cards – Don’t turn up to a networking event without them! Give them to everyone you meet. You will find that people ask for them but if they don’t make sure you hand them out. Make sure you take theirs as well. Always good to follow up your meetings with a friendly informal email saying how nice it was to meet them. Make sure your email signature includes your website and social media links as well.
- Find someone that can introduce you – You may have been invited to the group by someone that already attends. Is it suitable for getting an introduction to various people? People always like the kudos they receive for introducing a new person to the event.
- Be confident in your business proposition – No-one knows your business as you do and just because you might be the new person in the room doesn’t mean that everyone else is a better business person than you! They may be just as apprehensive as you – if not no doubt they were at their first meeting.
If you are still unsure as to whether this is the right forum for you and your business, then let’s look at whether it works. If you carry out research online, you will get all sorts of conflicting information. Does it work, it doesn’t work, it’s not worth it, you must network information overload right? I do question whether it is worth the time and effort and whether it pays for me to do it, so you probably need to look at your own individual business and how it could work for you.
When it pays to network
You are in a room full of people that are there to sell themselves without overselling themselves. In the future, they will more than likely need or want what you are selling. Whether you are a graphic designer, an accountant, a tradesman or woman or you are selling particular products, there will come the point when at least one person in that room needs what you have. What you need to ascertain is whether or not that one person is enough to make it pay.
Is it worth the investment?
Many networking events charge a small monthly membership fee. Take the Chamber of Commerce, for example. Some of them charge as little as £20 membership per year and have a calendar of events on their website that often cost an additional fee. Now you need to weigh up the cost of this fee against the lifetime worth of a new client. If you get one client from that room full of people across the course of the meetings, will it pay for the cost of both the membership and your time? Make sure you calculate the time spent travelling to and how long you are at the event when working this out. You may find that one client is all you need to make it worthwhile. What about referrals? If that one client refers you to someone else, then how much is it worth then?
Is it a great networking event?
If you turn up and there are three people there, then the chances are you are wasting your time. What you need to ensure is that the room is going to be full of a diverse mix of businesses and that the group is regularly buzzing with plenty of members. Only then will you be able to network. Perhaps email them in advance and ask them how many members they have and how many they get at their meetings. Many of them hold breakfast meetings for those who want to attend before they start their working day.
The only way to test it out is to do what I did, bite the bullet and find a local networking event and then go! If you arrive and find that it is a complete waste of time, then you know that a particular group wasn’t for you. There may be others but carry out your research, ask other local businesses and find what works for you.