About the Author Lisa Reynolds, Business Support and Development Expert Lisa Reynolds runs Let Me Do That For You. More than fifteen years' business experience in a broad range of industries, disciplines and sectors has made Lisa a natural troubleshooter. She has an uncanny knack for identifying simple but highly effective ways to make systems, processes and procedures work better. With a keen eye for marketing and communications, she's known for spotting new and missed opportunities across vertical and horizontal markets, customer groups, marketing and sales strategies. Based by the sea in Brighton & Hove, East Sussex, Lisa helps local businesses of all shapes and sizes rationalise their working spaces, set in place rock solid business systems, discover fresh revenue streams and see the marketing wood for the trees. Whether a business's website needs critiquing from a visitor perspective, a company needs their sales support systems to work like clockwork or a firm's MD simply doesn't have time to get important stuff done, Lisa steps in.
To Network or Not to Network? A quick 'n' dirty guide to the ins and outs of face‐to‐face business networking Some people are convinced that small businesses simply cannot succeed without networking. Others believe it's easy to build a thriving business without any kind of human interaction. So who's right? What are the ins and outs of networking, and the pros and cons of face‐to‐face interaction with your fellow business owners? The basic pros and cons are fairly obvious.
Business Networking Pros & Cons Networking :: The Benefits You meet fellow small business owners in person to exchange news, views and tips Some of them become customers Others tell their colleagues, friends and acquaintances about you You can set up financially advantageous agreements between you You keep a finger on the economy's pulse and stay abreast of the markets' moods If you work alone or from home, you get to speak to other human beings – it keeps you sane! Ideas and inspiration can really sparkle at a lively networking meeting There's a collection of like minded people to turn to for advice and support You can steadily grow your reputation within your local business community Networking :: The Downside Joining a network or business club can be expensive. Some charge £500 to £1000 You can't easily tell whether the network you're joining will suit you until you join Some networks are too sales focused – all members do is try to sell to each other and it can get very insular
You have to make a regular commitment to attend, often outside normal working hours at inconvenient times like early mornings, weekends and evenings There isn't always a clear and direct financial return on your investment You might have to grit your teeth and be sociable when you're just not in the mood You might end up spending more time preparing for networking meetings than getting down to actual business You're selling yourself and you're highly visible, so you need to look and sound the part at all times!
Having said that... there's nothing quite like getting information straight from the horse's mouth. The best way to find out the facts is to ask. Here are the contrasting views of two successful small business owners.
For… Welcome Nick Harvey from Harvey Marketing: marketer, prolific networker and networking mentor... “Networking is an incredible tool for generating business in my opinion, and something which helps businesses understand the different business types that are out there. Success in networking isn’t guaranteed, though, and it depends to which business type or industry type you are operating in. Networking enhances the process of relationship marketing and relationship building, whereby every contact could possibly become a buyer of your products or services. On the other hand, these contacts could become sales ambassadors for your business. With all this in mind you have to ask yourself four key questions: Is people's perception of what I’m presenting as positive as it can be? Is there an opportunity to follow up on this contact? And is this the right networking event for me? Do I have the ability to spot networking opportunities and convert them into sales? Some people don’t network and they're still incredibly successful. Some people don’t network and win very little business. Personally, I generate about 50% of my business through networking and the other 50% through referrals. Networking also helps you develop as an individual as well as enhancing one's ability to communicate. Strong communications are so important in business and many people don't have the skills needed to pull it off. I actually offer marketing mentoring, where I guide clients through networking situations to help them become more effective at building relationships and closing sales. I also host the Brighton Business Curry Club, which attracts around 50 networkers on a monthly basis. It's clear that people are winning business by attending these events as they develop their profile in the marketplace. Overall I highly recommend networking. It helps me maintain revenue levels in my own business and my clients’ businesses’ as well as supporting my profile in my chosen business markets.”
Against… Welcome Kate Naylor from Help in the City: seo copywriter and copy editor and direct marketing expert “I agree with everything Nick says. There's no doubt that networking works. For some people. But I think it's a case of horses for courses. I believe it's one element of a complex marketing mix that small business owners can either take or leave, depending on their natural inclinations and business plans. In my view a person's willingness to engage in networking comes down to personality type. I'd rather swim in shark infested custard or pick a fight with King Kong than than meet a room full of strangers. I run my business almost exclusively by email. I very rarely meet my clients in person – in fact I think I've met a grand total of three people in the last four years ‐ and I've never networked, face to face or otherwise. Because I'm a firm believer in building my strengths rather than trying to fix my weaknesses, I've avoided networking. Instead I've built up my freelance business via direct marketing and search engine optimisation. It took me three months from first setting up in business to win my first project. From then on it has been relatively plain sailing. From month 6 onwards I had a steady stream of work. During the four and a half years I've been in business I've increased my hourly rate twice. As a result my net income has crept up in satisfying leaps and bounds year on year. I'm aware that I've got a few advantages over most people. I worked in direct marketing for many years so I know how marketing works and I have strong connections in the SEO industry. So marketing my business on a DIY basis comes as second nature. As far as my market profile and reputation are concerned, my website speaks for me and my work speaks for itself. Instead of networking I spend an hour a day marketing my business. It costs very little, usually nothing more than my own time. I have nothing but admiration for successful networkers but I also know it's easy to succeed without it.”
How to Decide if Networking is for You The best way to see if you'll benefit from ‐ and enjoy ‐ face to face networking is to suck it and see! But it's useful to ask yourself a couple of key questions first. Are you naturally outgoing or more reserved? Do you love joining in or do you prefer to stay on the sidelines? Weigh up your discomfort levels and decide whether the benefits of networking are likely to outweigh the damage to your peace of mind! If the thought of networking makes you wince there's a wealth of excellent information online about DIY marketing. Or, if you'd like to improve your networking skills, find an expert mentor. What exactly do you want to achieve, in concrete terms, from face to face networking? If you're selling business to consumer you might be better off investing in consumer marketing via website optimisation, email marketing, direct marketing and whatnot rather than networking with fellow business owners. On the other hand if you're selling B2B, networking could be the perfect way to win business and grow your reputation within your target markets. If you're an international business you might not focus on local networking. But if you want to make inroads into a local market, networking could be your best asset.
Types of Business Network Business networks come in all sports of flavours. Here's a taster. In every case it's best to check that the network you're about to join gives you at least a reasonable chance of recouping your investment. Free networking meetings: These are often held in pubs. Usually open to all comers, they're generally free. Unless you're lucky and have a very confident facilitator this style of business networking event can soon descend into chaos and, with drink involved and no schedule or timetable, it's not always easy to establish the actual benefits. Unless you just need to talk to other like minded business people to let off steam, it probably isn't your best bet. Rigid paid networking clubs: This is paid membership with sector exclusivity. If you're a design agency you'll be the only design agency on board, which gives you the floor and maximises your chances of selling to other network members and more importantly, to the people they know. Because they're so focused on other members being a ‘salesperson’ for your business, if the other members of your group aren’t proactive then your investment can yield little or no return.
Flexible paid networking clubs: This is paid membership with no exclusivity. You might be one of ten design agencies belonging to the same network. It's good to consider whether you're confident enough in your goods and services – and have the sheer energy and ingenuity required ‐ to compete head to head against nine others in your sector every time you meet! This approach is probably best if you want a tribe of like minded people to chew over the ins and outs of business with rather than a hotbed of red hot leads. Industry specific networks: These are dedicated to members in a certain industry sector. Wired Sussex, for instance, is for people in the creative, media and marketing industries. Yes, you're surrounded by people in the same sector as you, many of whom are in the same situation. But that means, again, you're competing against each other for business. The real strength of networks like this is the moral and practical support provided by members. If you want to target a specific market sector it's sometimes a good idea to join their network... if they'll let you! If they suspect you're only there to sell they might object. But if you can pull it off you'll be in a great position, surrounded by hot prospects, in front of a captive audience.
Choosing the Right Business Network Here's some sensible things to consider when choosing a business network: What style of network is most relevant to your business? Which local networks have the best reputation? Are meetings held in a convenient place or will the journey become a burden? Can you try it for free before you decide to join? Can you talk to a few existing members, either on the phone or by email, to get their feedback before you join? Can you get a pro rata refund, or any refund, if it turns out you're not happy? Is there any concrete evidence of the network's short and longer term financial benefits? When was their website last updated? If it's lying fallow the network might be in poor health
Networking Etiquette It's worth familiarising yourself with networking etiquette before taking the plunge. Make sure you've got your ducks in a row before you attend your first meeting or event and you'll find the whole process a lot smoother and more enjoyable. Here's some useful tips for making a splash at your networking debut. Think about how you'll be perceived Business networking is high visibility stuff. You're under close scrutiny at every meeting. You're there to sell your wares to fellow members, impress them enough to turn them into an advocate for your business and assure them you're a professional. Here's a few simple ways to make a good impression and boost your confidence. Wear clothes that make you feel relaxed, comfortable and in control Prepare yourself by deciding exactly what you want to achieve from each meeting Establish one or two simple, achievable objectives for each meeting ‐ don't overload yourself Keep it short and sweet... If you can't do it already, teach yourself how to explain exactly what you do in less than 10 seconds. Work out the best way to express it on paper and keep editing until you've got it right. Then practice in front of the mirror until it trips off your tongue without having to think about it.
Don't smash and grab! There's nothing worse than business card smash and grabbing. Just chill. One of the biggest benefits of face to face networking is the relationships you create, not the sales you make. Try not to be overtly salesy – it can be very off putting ‐ and don't expect to win hard business from every meeting. Have patience, take advantage of members' expertise, get to know people and sales will eventually follow. Maximising your networking opportunities If you're not a born networker it's easy to fall into the trap of sticking with your friends at meetings and playing safe. Grit your teeth and work the room instead. That's what you're there for. Bear in mind that most people are probably feeling the same as you. And realise that even though you feel nervous, you almost certainly don't look it. The laws of physics say there's a bore in every network. You need to know how to ditch the network bore politely but firmly so you can make the most of things. Try introducing them to someone else. Go to the loo. Or apologise and explain there's someone else you need to have a quick chat with. Following up It's good to keep in touch. But it's best not to follow up a positive meeting of minds with a raw sales pitch. Take it easy. If you've been given a bunch of business cards drop everyone a friendly, low key line just to say it was good to meet them. Just something light to jog their memory.
How to Craft a Compelling 60 Second Presentation Many business networks involve you giving a weekly 45‐60 second presentation. There's an easy way and a hard way to do this. Here's the easy way! Tailor your presentation so it supports the aims you've set yourself for that particular meeting. Pick one strong argument, concept or idea rather than trying to cover too much in one go. Format it with a distinct beginning, middle and end so it's logical and neat: introduce the concept, give details then summarise. Avoid jargon. Focus on the benefits of your product or service rather than the features and you'll make a much bigger impact. Be creative. Rope your friends and family in and get them to dream up ideas for presenting your wares in exciting, innovative ways that'll inspire your audience and ensure they'll never forget you. Take care with humour. There's nothing worse than presenting to a group that's suffered an enormous sense of humour failure, or who just don't 'get' it! Practice your presentation until you're fluent. Time yourself until the length is perfect.
Use a mirror so you can see whether you've acquired any tics or fidgets that betray your nerves. Being aware of them makes it easier to stop. Perform the finished item to a friend or partner and get their feedback – it'll boost your confidence. The night before, visualise yourself making a superb job of your presentation as you go to sleep. There's strong scientific evidence that it helps! Bear in mind that very few people enjoy speaking in public. It helps to know you're not the only person feeling jittery. Take slow, deep breaths to help settle any nerves. Make sure you speak steadily and clearly. Don't gabble. Be prepared to answer questions. If you don't know the answer, don't pretend... admit it. Be generous with your praise for other people's presentations and you'll be more likely to get a positive reception yourself.
In Summary Business networking is a growth industry and there are literally hundreds of business networks running in the UK. It's a great way to get involved in your local business community, make sales, get support and advice and make useful contacts. If you're not a natural networker there's plenty of help and advice online about improving your skills. And there's expert person‐to‐person support available from networking mentors. You can even consider creating your own network, say for your village, suburb or town. While it's a useful element of the marketing and promotional mix, face to face networking is by no means essential. It's a personality thing. If you'd rather eat worms than join a business network, DIY SEO and marketing might suit your personality better. If you decide business networking is for you, take the time to research which is most likely to give you the results you need as well as a network that suits your pocket and your style.
Copyright © Let Me Do That For You All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the author. Let Me Do That For You t: 01273 748733 e: email@example.com w: www.letmedothatforyou.co.uk