If you have jumped in here, I urge you to read Part 1 first – Small Business Networking in the Midst of Chaos. This article will make a lot more sense if you do.
How I Leverage Small Business Networking
In Part 1, I discussed how global and domestic events have disrupted small business networking. But despite all of that change, I still managed a 1000% return on my networking investment over the last 12 months.
It must be working. So, how have I managed it?
Before I get into that, let’s briefly recap why we go business networking at all. ROI aside, what are the benefits?
The Compounding Value of Networking
Building Valuable Connections: At a basic level, networking helps you connect with other professionals, potential clients and partners.
Sharing Knowledge: You learn from others’ experiences and knowledge, which is a real plus. You also get to demonstrate your own.
Referral Opportunities: Networking leads to referrals and word-of-mouth recommendations, which can bring in new customers.
Collaboration Potential: It opens doors to collaboration on projects or ventures you might not have found otherwise.
Personal Growth: Networking boosts your interpersonal and communication skills, boosting your confidence and making you a better business person.
Access to Resources: You can tap into resources and information like industry trends, training and best practices.
Feedback and Validation: Networking provides valuable real-time feedback on your ideas, products and services, helping you refine them.
Enhanced Visibility: Being part of a network can increase your business’s visibility and reputation. (This is a significant benefit for my business.)
Mentorship Opportunities: You might find mentors or advisors to guide your business journey. (I met my business coach through networking.)
Crisis Support: During tough times, your network can offer emotional support and practical advice.
So, as we’ve seen, networking has many intangible benefits, and I have benefitted from them all.
But returning to the ROI, how do I make my membership turn a healthy profit?
Making the Dream Work: Take a Team Role
All business networking organisations (except possibly the very smallest) are run at a meeting level by volunteer members. Meetings are ‘created’ by teams of volunteers who find a venue and market the meeting with the help of the organisation’s head office team – they usually provide website infrastructure for bookings, marketing merchandise and occasionally advertising and publicity.
Team structures vary between networks, but they typically include someone to host the meeting, a group leader to chair the meeting, and someone to look after the bookings and admin. Sometimes, there is a person dedicated to new member sales.
Regardless of which role you choose, being a team member has many benefits:
- Reduced rates for meeting fees
- Greater visibility within the network
- Access to members
- Opportunities to invite people to “your” meeting
I take the admin role in two of my networking groups. That allows me to speak to fellow members and visitors regularly via phone, text message, email and in person, which keeps my brand name fresh in their minds.
Networking’s Golden Rule: Practice What You Preach
My business is all about small business marketing and promotion using print and digital. My presence at networking meetings is my chance to demonstrate that I know what I’m doing, not just by telling people but by proving it.
I have to walk the walk.
So, if I say you should bring flyers to a networking event to help you publicise your business beyond the meeting, I need to do that, too (which I do).
If I try to sell you the benefits of a new eco-friendly banner display system, you bet I will have my own on show at that meeting.
And when I tell people to stop relying on Facebook for their marketing and to build an email mailing list instead, that’s precisely what I have done.
“Show, don’t just tell” goes a long way to proving your integrity, and networking allows me to do just that.
Commitment Counts: Why Showing Up is Half the Battle
One of my biggest criticisms of some online networking (the Zoom variety) is that you will meet someone and then not see them again for weeks or months. That kind of networking makes it very hard to get to know people, and it presents that person as someone who is not serious or committed.
Networking (like branding and advertising) requires a commitment to show up regularly with a consistent message. It’s the only way to build relationships with people that allow you to know, like and trust each other.
Networking is a long game. It doesn’t always deliver immediate results; you will need some patience. Building strong relationships through networking requires long-term commitment and effort, and my ROI is undoubtedly due, in part, to my consistently being there.
Give Talks to Demonstrate your Skills
Most business networks offer their members the chance to present a 10-20 minute talk about something business-related. This is an ideal opportunity to present yourself as an expert in your field, improve your presentation skills and build confidence.
I remember my first presentation. As a visual person and a designer, the idea of having no supporting graphics to fall back on was horrifying. The idea of just standing up and talking to a group of strangers filled me with a nameless dread.
But I did it. And the response was positive, which gave me the courage to put my hand up to do it again.
Over the years, I’ve probably given 20-30 presentations at various meetings. While I’m no Peter Ustinov (one for the teenagers there), my talks have led directly to being commissioned for branding and marketing work on numerous occasions.
Rise to the Occasion: Master your Elevator Pitch
I’m not going to dive too deeply into how to create the perfect pitch (plenty of better-qualified people can do that). But I will suggest one thing from my own experience.
When I started networking, my business offered many services. I never knew which one to talk about during my allotted minute or so. This meant I ended up reciting a shopping list of services that did nothing for me or my audience.
So now, I try to concentrate on just one thing. At the moment, I talk about my Christmas print marketing offers (it’s November as I write this). There are about 8 of those, so I pick one and talk about that in vivid detail. This makes the pitch much more interesting, engaging and successful.
“But what about all your other services?”
That’s what the bumf table is for – your flyers (remember those) should contain details of all your services and have links to your website, prices, etc, for people to take away.
Don’t Sell to the Room
My final piece of advice applies especially to first-time networkers.
In small business networking, one cardinal sin stands out above all others: the shameless pitch.
You’re at a networking meeting, sipping on a coffee, ready for some casual chat about business, and suddenly, someone transforms into a human billboard, spouting their sales pitch like a malfunctioning robot.
It’s horrible, to say the least, and I’m sure we’ve all experienced it.
The importance of not turning networking events into impromptu infomercials cannot be overstated. These gatherings are like delicate ecosystems – nurture relationships first, and business will naturally follow. Nobody likes feeling ambushed by a sales spiel – it’s the networking equivalent of a cold shower.
Instead, focus on building genuine connections, swapping stories and discovering common ground. Remember, in the grand scheme of small business networking, authenticity is the currency that genuinely pays dividends.
As Oscar Wilde said, “be yourself – everyone else is taken”.
If you resist the urge to unleash your inner sales maestro and let the conversations flow, your business karma (and your fellow networkers) will thank you later.
The Time to Grow Your Network Is Now
Those are the not-so-secret ways I leverage networking for my business. I have hopefully shown how it could work for you.
If you want to attend one of my meetings, I do a mix of in-person (in the East Midlands, UK) and online (which can be from anywhere, worldwide). Just hit me up for an invitation – we’ll be happy to meet you.
What do you think?
I’d love to hear your tips on successful networking and thoughts about the future. Where do you network, and how is it working for you? Let me know in the comments.