Networking 101

Autumn is undoubtedly my favourite season, sandwiched neatly between those long, warm, summer days and the excitement of Christmas. For me, it is definitely synonymous with taking stock and making plans – and the new term feeling still pervades, despite it being several years since I replenished my pencil case in eager anticipation of the school year ahead!

As the owner of a small business myself, autumn also definitely feels like a timely opportunity to re-establish my existing networks, both personal and professional. It’s also offers a perfect opportunity to appraise those networks and examine any opportunities to extend them and create opportunities around them.

Networking can take many forms, but in its essence, it draws on some fundamental communication skills. Regardless of whether your business is an SME or huge multi-national, establishing and fostering valuable connections for your business draws on the same basic communication skills.

Starting to foster the connections from your network can be as simple as remembering someone’s name at a networking event or recalling a small detail about their lives. Effective networking also requires an element of remaining in the present and engaging fully when meeting face-to-face. It’s about the ability to give someone your full and undivided attention, and to become an attentive and active listener too. It also requires genuine interest and authenticity in your contacts, and what they have to contribute.

Whatever you want to take from your networks; whether you’re keen to source a new supplier, or perhaps acquire new customers, or even ask for funding – building a solid and dependable network can lead to invaluable and exciting opportunities. Networking should also always be based on a reciprocal relationship too. Reflect on how you can help people in your network, and not just about what you need from them. Think of it as a long term investment in your business that requires nurturing and steady looking after over time.

If this is sounding like a huge amount of effort – for those of us that are a little time poor, consider developing and engaging with a smaller more niche group or network that really sits well with the ethos of your own business. Identify and hone down your quality contacts that could be beneficial to your business over time, rather than focussing on developing a huge and unwieldy network.

Maintaining networks for your business can be achieved by developing an ongoing (and continuous) audit of the people within your network, and by creating connections and opportunities from that group. Sustained curiosity and audit of these contacts is fairly crucial here but doesn’t need to be overly time consuming. Simply following up an initial meeting, formal or otherwise with a thank you. Or, if you meet someone you make a connection with at a networking event, follow up with an email.  Try and check in regularly to invite key contacts for a coffee, send a catch up email or invite them to a mutually beneficial event with you. Social media is also a great means to stay connected to your wider network. LinkedIn is an invaluable tool for you to keep up to date on what your own network are up to, and to identify areas to develop and make connections between your network.

Of course, building networks for your business isn’t just a seasonal goal – a continuous audit of those networks and relationships, is something that should really be integral to your business all year round.  Regardless of what you need to achieve, that network, once established and maintained, can be invaluable to developing your business.

If you have any questions about this blog, or any other questions on developing marketing tools for your business, please do get in touch.