Let’s be clear, in this world of digital marketing, good old-fashioned face-to-face networking still works.
In fact, it’s rare that I meet a client who doesn’t list ‘word of mouth’ as one of their top five routes for new business – and networking is an extension of that.
People are more likely to do business with people that they like or have a connection with. The Internet can be faceless and impersonal, and getting someone to contact you when they have only encountered your company online requires them to cross a mental barrier. Making a follow-up call with someone you have already met face-to-face is a far easier prospect.
Networking’s place in your sales funnel
Before you can create credibility you need to build visibility. At The Design Mechanics, we often talk about creating a ‘wall of noise’ around your company so that people regularly see you and your business both on and offline. Part of this means using email marketing and LinkedIn to keep you in front of your contacts, but you need to keep finding new contacts to add into your marketing machine and face-to-face events are a great place to meet them and extend your company’s network.
It’s rare that someone you meet at an event will need your product or services on the day you meet them. So when you get back to the office (or even there and then on your smartphone!) connect with them on LinkedIn so that you can continue your offline conversations online. Add them into your smart email marketing system so that they start seeing your regular articles proving that you are truly an expert.
Different networking groups
So, which networking events are worth your time and effort and which you should avoid?
I’m not going to go into details here but I’ve done them all over the years – from Chamber events, casual ‘Friday afternoon in the pub’ groups, formal and scripted early-morning breakfast meetings, and even groups that combine networking with a five-mile ramble! Your industry association will run its own events, and there is also a new world of groups that use sites such as MeetUp and EventBright to blur the line between business networking and socialising.
You should try them all without prejudice. You can generally visit formal networking groups at least once without having to make a commitment – so sample them all, find what works for you and which attract the kind of contacts you want, at the same time picking up a whole bunch of new real-world connections on the way.
Don’t be a bad networker
There are two types of bad networker. Those who go to events to hang out with their mates, and those that just want to get everyone’s business card so they can spam them afterward. You should aim to be somewhere between the two! Try to get around as many people in the room as you can whilst allowing yourself time to get into longer conversations to explore relationships with people who you have some business synergy with. If you get to an event early you can talk to people as they arrive and there are fewer people in the room, instead of having to break into a gathering that is already well underway.
If you get to an event early you can talk to people as they arrive and there are fewer people in the room.
Remember, people are there to meet new contacts, so don’t be afraid to take someone’s details and arrange to have a follow-on chat after the event so that you can both continue your networking. And if you do get cornered by someone who is not interested in getting work from the event (after all, for some people ‘networking’ is just a release from the office!) don’t be afraid to excuse yourself with some well-practised lines about wanting to get around the room!
And finally, don’t forget to follow-up if you said you would. Take some time when you get back at the office to go through your business cards, make those online connections and send a polite thank you email to the people who you spoke with. Also take a look if the group has a LinkedIn or Facebook group you can join.
Much of the business I get from networking comes weeks, month and sometimes even years after I first meet someone – so if you have fallen out of the habit of meeting potential customers and business partners face-to-face, you are missing a large slice of your opportunities.