If you are planning to start your own business make sure that you allow time for networking.
We all network, with relatives, friends and workplace associates if no one else. People in business need to network systematically. Increasingly this is how both companies and individuals market themselves.
Where ever you are based there will be local networking groups. Use a search engine to find them, most will allow you to try a meeting or two out for free (expect to pay for refreshments/meals and a share of room hire) before you must commit to paying for membership. Choose the ones that suit your style and that you think would benefit your business. If you cannot find a suitable group in your locality, then consider starting one. You could do this as a standalone project or under the wing of an established organisation such as 4Networking. This latter approach will provide a readymade format, website and bookings process, and other support.
It is important to remember that networking meetings are not sales events per se. Of course, everyone there will have something to sell, but experienced networkers know that the priority is to be known, liked and trusted as an individual. People are only comfortable doing business with those that they know, like and trust. Do not worry too much about the makeup of the group, you are there to make connections which in turn will lead to more connections over time.
Some people become disenchanted when they have not seen any new business after the first few weeks. Do not fall into this trap, most people agree that it will take around six months before you see any financial return on networking. Therefore, I advise people planning to start a business to start networking as early as possible.
Everyone is a little nervous and apprehensive when starting out. Prepare a few 40 to 60 second pitches about yourself. Do not try to cover everything that you have done and now want to do, you will fail and confuse/loose people’s attention in the process. Instead concentrate on one interesting and unique thing about yourself or one thing that you are trying to achieve from attending the group. Change these around from group to group, you will soon settle into a pattern that you are comfortable delivering. If the group is large, try to find a way to stand out from all the others. People always enjoy amusing stories but remember to be yourself and stick to what you know. Frauds will soon be seen through and made unwelcome.
Always follow up on networking meetings. Record new contacts in your CRM system (which can just be a spreadsheet if you do not want to use a low-cost cloud-based solution). Send each contact a brief email thanking them for their time and insights, try to personalise each one as appropriate. Consider connecting with them on LinkedIn or other social media. Remember that networking is like going to the gym, you must keep it up regularly to gain the benefits.