Growing your business through networking

Full disclosure: I’m a marketer and a networker. They both work as growth strategies for your business, but I don’t think I could choose one over the other. If I networked my ass off, those I connected with would still probably check me out online, so my marketing game would need to be strong. And if I marketed my ass off, then I’d have to meet certain expectations when those I marketed to met me face to face.

In my opinion, they go hand in hand. Today, business networking is a must-have skill. Building a strong network can lead to new opportunities, partnerships, and a support system that helps your business succeed.

But let’s get this straight: networking isn’t about handing out or swapping as many business cards as possible. Neither is about walking into a room to see how many meetings you can make to sell your product or service. Both attitudes will eventually harm your business because you’ll be seen as a pillager.

My story

I started off networking with a full arsenal of marketing services. I experimented with different versions of business networking groups: business after five, monthly lunches, fortnightly or weekly meetings, one-off events and conferences, female-only groups, city fringe and suburban locations, and expensive and free options. And I watched, listened, and learned.

Obviously, it’s different for everyone, and there are enough options out there to cater to all preferences. Where I found success included these criteria:

    • Weekly meetings. Fortnightly and monthly didn’t work for me; if it wasn’t regular enough, it wasn’t top of mind enough. You’d have to scramble before the meeting to ensure you were meeting your commitments.
    • Expensive membership: When you have to pay more, the members of the group are more serious about making it work—they’re putting their time and money into it, so they’re more serious about getting returns. Eventually, I learned that you could significantly make back that investment, so the cost is no longer a factor.
    • City fringe: When it’s closer to the city, the referrals are more likely to be business-like. I found networking in Suburbia to be more about doing favours for people than helping businesses with budgets.
    • Become niche: Focusing on and offering one service made it easier for people to refer to me. This eventually led to stripping back all my marketing services to content marketing.

The success I found with this formula is a huge contributor to my business’s success, and I am a very proud BNI (Business Networking International) member in Auckland, New Zealand. After five years, I am now beginning to step into the international market and couldn’t have been more prepared after my listening and learning in that time.

Networking events vs. regular networking groups

Business networking events and regular networking groups serve different purposes, and both can be great for building your business network. Networking events, like conferences or industry gatherings, let you quickly meet a wide range of professionals. These events are perfect for expanding your network, learning about new trends, and generating leads.

On the other hand, regular networking groups provide a more focused approach to building relationships. These groups usually meet consistently and bring together professionals with similar goals or interests. By showing up regularly, you can forge deeper connections, build trust, and create a supportive community to help you navigate challenges and celebrate successes.

For both options, my strongest piece of advice is to provide value.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that it’s about giving

I hear some of you saying, “Yeah, yeah”, but it’s true – just Google ‘the law of giving.’ Real networking begins when it’s with the same people on a regular basis, and it’s about giving instead of getting.

How do you build a business network? It’s about building real relationships with people who can help your business. By connecting with people in your industry or related fields, you tap into a goldmine of knowledge, resources, and potential collaborations. These connections can bring in referrals, partnerships, and new clients—all crucial for growing your business.

There’s a skill to being genuine, confident, and sometimes vulnerable.

Plus, networking keeps you in the loop about industry trends and insights. Talking shop with your peers and experts gives you valuable perspectives to make smart decisions and stay ahead of the curve.

Networking in good times and bad

When times are tough, like during a recession, it’s easy to want to cut back on networking (and marketing, for that matter). But that’s exactly when you need your professional connections the most. During a downturn, businesses face challenges and may need to switch gears. Your network can provide wisdom and support and even uncover new opportunities that come from market changes.

On the flip side, networking during good times lets you share your wins and give back to the business community. By offering your skills and resources to others, you build goodwill and establish yourself as a trusted and valuable member of your network.

Networking in the digital age

Networking has expanded beyond traditional face-to-face interactions. Online networking platforms like LinkedIn have become tools for professionals to connect, share knowledge, and discover new opportunities. You can showcase your expertise, engage with industry leaders, and participate in relevant discussions. To effectively leverage digital networking, it’s crucial to maintain a professional online presence that aligns with your personal brand. See – it’s where networking and marketing go hand-in-hand.

Make sure you fill in all the blanks (also known as optimising your profile), share valuable content, and actively engage with your connections by commenting on their posts or sharing their updates.

Networking etiquette

Being a good listener is crucial; ask relevant questions and show sincere curiosity about others’ experiences and perspectives. When chatting, be mindful of body language, maintain eye contact, and give others your undivided attention. If you need to move on from a conversation, do so gracefully by expressing gratitude for the individual’s time and considering ways to follow up or stay connected.

Take business cards! So often, I’ve forgotten about someone I’ve met because they didn’t have a card on them. I meet many people at networking events, and I haven’t nailed that memory trick you do to remember everyone’s name.

After networking events, take the initiative to send personalised follow-up messages, thanking people for their insights and exploring potential collaborations or further discussions. Networking is a two-way street; always look for opportunities to provide value to your connections, whether through sharing relevant resources, making introductions, or offering your expertise.

But it’s scary!

I won’t tell you that it’s not scary; it is. Unfortunately, the only way to get over it is to do it. Someone told me that everyone is scared, and I didn’t believe them because they all seemed so confident. Now I’m five years in, and I still get shaky when I have to stand up and speak or be the one to start a conversation. But I will admit that it gets easier the more I do it.

If you feel anxious or overwhelmed in networking situations, start by setting small, achievable goals. Focus on making one or two meaningful connections at each event rather than trying to meet everyone in the room. Prepare conversation starters or questions in advance to help break the ice and alleviate some of the pressure.

Five tips for building a strong business network:

    1. Keep it real. Be real and genuine in your interactions. Focus on building authentic relationships, not just collecting contacts.
    2. Offer value: Before asking for help, offer value to others. Share your knowledge, resources, or connections freely; others will be more likely to return the favour.
    3. Two ears, one mouth: Listen well and show interest in others’ stories and experiences. Ask questions and seek to understand their challenges and goals.
    4. Follow up and stay in touch: After meeting someone new, send them a personal message or invite them to connect on LinkedIn.
    5. Timeliness: Make introductions and referrals when it makes sense. Connecting people in your network who could benefit from knowing each other strengthens your relationships and builds goodwill.

Business networking is a powerful tool for growth and success, no matter the economic climate. By building genuine relationships, offering value, and consistently engaging with your network, you can unlock new opportunities, gain valuable insights, and build a supportive community to help your business thrive. So, start building and nurturing your network today, and watch your business grow!

If you don’t know where to begin, want to talk through something, or have a specific question but are not sure who to address it to, fill in the form, and we’ll get back to you within two working days.

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