I should start this blog by saying that I’m not an expert at networking. I don’t do talks on it or have a book you can buy on the subject. I just do it myself. A lot. And I know for a fact that it’s been the best thing I’ve done to grow my business.
I also know how terrifying it can be! You are essentially walking into a room full of people you don’t know and trying to have meaningful conversations, so that they’ll give you money for the service or product you produce.
Except it’s not. It’s all about relationships. For me, networking is about giving myself the opportunity to find the type of people I like to do business with. Then seeing them regularly to build a relationship so that we are someone they call if they need design work.
It’s true that people buy from people. But really, people buy from people they like, know and trust. I know I do.
When I started my business, and was working at home I made myself go out and network. I’d just arrived back in Nantwich after living away for 19 years and didn’t have any business network. I went to everything and was amazed how many different types of meetings there were. Some were very structured and formal, some were so informal that you weren’t even sure that it was a meeting at all – especially when it was held in a pub! Some were women only and some were mixed. I went to coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, golf clubs, care homes – everywhere there’s a room big enough there seemed to be a meeting happening. But I felt I needed to pick one and commit. I knew that building relationships was key and wanted something I could go to regularly.
One of my new networking friends had been invited to a business meeting and didn’t want to go alone, would I come with her? So I set my alarm for stupid o’clock and found myself at a BNI meeting at 6.45am! I was livid as I’d purposely been avoiding BNI because I’d heard they were pushy and overly formal. I managed to scribble something down to say for 60 seconds (I didn’t know I’d need to say anything). The 10 minute speaker was funny and engaging and at the end introduced us to the future of their company – a little 4 yr old and a 7 yr old, dressed in company uniform to highlight that they’re a family business. I haven’t forgotten that talk 5 years on! But I got really interested when the referrals were handed round. These people were actually giving each other business! I wanted to be part of this. In the end my friend decided it wasn’t for her but I went back and joined.
I’ve been a member of BNI Dabbers now for nearly 5 years and can credit a six-figure sum directly to my BNI contacts. I understand that BNI isn’t for everyone and it’s really important to find a networking group that works for you and your business.
I’ve also benefited hugely from other local networks especially Redshift Hub, South Cheshire Chamber of Commerce, FSB and the MMU Growth Programme but I’ve got much more than business from networking and that’s my final point. There are lots of hidden benefits:
- Suppliers – most of my most trusted suppliers have come from networking. As a design agency we are only as good as the work we produce and ensuring that we use printers, videographers, photographers that we like, know and trust is imperative.
- Opportunities – I can’t begin to list all the different opportunities that have opened up for us because of conversations with people while networking. Some of my biggest clients have come from speaking opportunities I’ve been invited to because I’m known within the area now.
- Advice – seeing other professionals regularly means that if you have a question, you know someone to ask. From a legal question to a plumbing problem you know they’ll answer the phone and give you five minutes for no charge, because you have a relationship with them.
- Who you are – describing who you are and what you do when you’re introducing yourself to people while networking is really good at helping you explain what you do succinctly. Something everyone needs help with!
- Friends – it sounds a bit fluffy but after working away for so long I knew no one in Nantwich and having a social network was very important to me. Having friends that also run their own businesses and understand what you’re going through is invaluable.
Here are some of the local groups that I have been to. There are lots more!
New Business Network
I hope to see you at one of the networking events coming up!