How to network effectively
Provided by Business Partners Ltd, South Africa's leading investor in SMEs
In general, women are natural networkers and this can be used to the benefit of your small business. Don’t underestimate the value of these opportunities to make yourself and your company visible, but no matter how outgoing your personality, you have to have a clear strategy when attending these networking events.
Networking is the new buzzword for doing business and there are many formal and informal ways of creating this type of occasion to get your business out there. From regular lunch dates with clients or the odd round of golf, to events arranged by local business chambers, constant interaction with your customers is essential.
The key word here is "regular". While time is often an issue for the average entrepreneur, put networking high on your list of priorities. Not every event will produce a business deal, but the intention is to develop relationships, build your list of contacts and to come to mind when the need for your services does arise.
One on one
Networking is all about the one-on-one interaction with potential customers, service providers and business partners. When attending a formal event, make sure you get the most out of the time spent by being an effective networker:
- Confidence is key! Even if meeting new people is not your forte, don't be afraid to approach people. Often, many of the attendees are just as nervous as you are, so they will appreciate you breaking the ice. This will get easier as you attend more events
- Be strategic about who you speak to. Make a point of talking to a few people you have never met before. It's pointless speaking to only people you know, or those who will never bring you business or need your service
- Do as much listening as talking. By being genuinely interested in what the other person has to say, you'll be able to ask thoughtful questions. In this way, you build relationships that could bear fruit over time. Exchanging e-mail addresses and keeping each other updated on what you're doing could result in working opportunities or viable business leads
- You don’t have to speak to everyone in the room. A few meaningful interactions are better than having many forgettable conversations. Having said that, don't monopolise one person's time, so be able to give a brief description of what you do
- Don't forget to follow up. If you've made some good contacts, follow up quickly. Even just dropping an e-mail to say you enjoyed meeting them will put you on their radar for doing business in the future
All of these points form the basis of an effective networking strategy. Now that you've planned your approach, start getting yourself out there.
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