Sunday 21 January 2018

In these tough times networking becomes more important than ever

Caitlin O'Connor

IN these times of economic difficulty, business networking is more important than ever. Consumers are becoming much more selective in what they buy and how they prioritise their available expenditure.

However, networking is not about selling. It is about constructing an expanding set of contacts and gradually building genuine, mutually beneficial relationships with people with the goal of expanding your business while simultaneously assisting others in advancing theirs. Whether you are a start-up or have been in business for some time, not networking makes you invisible.

Here are seven top tips for maximising your networking potential:

Every company should have a strategic networking plan and a clear vision. Many of those networking at Irish International Business Network (IIBN) events are there with the goal of expanding their operations abroad or exporting into new territories. The networking plan needs to be amended every three months and all staff should network to make plans a reality. The key competencies involved in networking include communication skills, assertive skills, energy, enthusiasm, etiquette, courage, optimism, problem-solving abilities and drive. Networking needs extensive focus to ensure the above competencies can be developed and perfected, especially if your target market and those who you communicate with are in top-level positions within an organisation.

It is essential to understand the dynamics of networking. When deployed effectively, networking works – it is personal marketing. Marketing is a science and can be learned. If you are not getting results from networking, you need to reflect on your pitch, the events you are attending and your networking style. You must measure your success and amend elements in line with the audience and your own objectives and needs.

It is important to understand, in advance, which networking events your prospective clients may attend. If possible, try and obtain the list of attendees from the organisers in advance. This will assist you to ascertain that the event is a "right fit" and a worthy use of your time. At many events you will be invited to pitch your business, so it is vital to have a one-to-three-minute pitch ready. Failure to speak about your company confidently will give the impression that you are unsure of your business. If you are prepared, pitching your company can be a fantastic opportunity.

Arrive early and stay late. Often it is at the beginning of an event and at the end that you will meet the most influential people. You need to make yourself memorable. This could be in your style of dress, your manner or simply just working the room confidently. So few people have mastered the art of effective networking, yet those who have leave a lasting impression. Ensure you set a target to meet at least 10 new people and exchange business cards at each event.

Communication and engagement when networking is vital – you must build relationships of trust as well as let new contacts know what you do. You need to know what your value proposition is and why someone should do business with you. A fundamental skill in networking is to adapt your style dependent on who you are speaking with. Evaluate if they are interested in hearing lots of detail or solely top-level information.

The biggest single failing people have is following up after the networking event. Make sure to get in contact with anyone you met, either by email or phone call, and try to set up a meeting in the weeks after the event. You should have a follow-up plan for every contact, as some will be more significant than others. It is also important to have an on-going strategy for engagement. LinkedIn is a great source of meeting new people through referrals and through engagement. It is important to embrace social media and integrate it with your offline activity.

Referral networking is a key component to networking. You can't rely on meeting all your prospective customers yourself, so you need referral partners who will refer you to their clients knowing there will be a requirement for your product or service. Aim to have 65pc of your business originating from referrals. It is important to pick relevant referral partners and to engage with them and to motivate them to refer you.

Caitlin O'Connor is on the board of the Irish International Business Network (www.iibn.com) and a director at network and customer acquisition marketing consultancy Accelerating Performance.

Irish Independent

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