I have been business networking now for over 20 years, starting in the Scottish Borders with Contact, a group for women in Business back in the late 1990s.

I have always found networking enjoyable and worthwhile, but you do have to choose what is right for you.

Since moving back to York almost 20 years ago, I have participated in various networking groups including Business Network International, Business 4 Breakfast, Women in Rural Enterprise, The Business Network, Wedding Industry Network and I am pleased to be a founder member of the Business Wellbeing Club. Although I am no longer a member of the first three, I am still in touch with people I met through them and over the years have had work from all these groups.

Social media networking is also an important part of my marketing plan and I have discovered that the rules are the same for whatever type of networking you use. These rules can help you choose the right type of network and to make the most of every opportunity.

These are my simple rules:

  1. Plan. Why are you networking? – Yes, to get more business, but are you looking to drive people to a website, looking for people to collaborate with or looking for referrals from the people you network with.
  2. Set targets – if you are going to a one-off event you may want to put 2 potential clients in the diary, if you are using twitter it may be to get 100 followers per month, if you are joining an organisation like BNI you may want to get 10 new clients per year. You will need to work out how much new business you need to make it worth the time and energy.
  3. Set a limit – decide how much time/money you can spend on the network. Joining a referral-giving group like BNI or The Business Network can be quite expensive and time consuming, but the returns can be high. I recently invoiced for work I had received from TBN in one month – the amount I invoiced for was more than the year’s membership, including lunches! Using social media is inexpensive but can chip away at your time without you realising it.
  4. Measure how successful is your approach to networking – run  it as a mini business by doing a balance sheet to see if it is financially viable. Measure whether you achieve your targets. Give yourself a time limit for doing this. Do remember, however, that networking is not a quick fix as it depends on building working relationships.
  5. Prepare – if you are going to an event find out beforehand what is expected of you – will you have to talk for 1 minute about your company? Have plenty of business cards. If you are using social media, plan your profile description and pictures to give the image you want.
  6. Be Positive – smiling is good for you and no-one wants to spend time with people who moan and complain.
  7. Don’t sell, sell, sell – the biggest turn-off is somebody who does a big sales pitch to you. If you think that someone is in the market for your business, suggest you have a further meeting separate to the networking event/media to learn more about each others businesses.
  8. Listen to the people you meet – ask what you can do for them, find out the sort of people they want to meet and help them make contacts. Be an enabler.
  9. Follow up the people that you met afterwards, even if it is just an e-mail to say nice to meet you. Do Not bombard them with sales material. If you meet people via social networking, thank them for their follows and keep in touch with them.
  10. Be yourself – you do business with people you like, so it’s fine to find out if you have things in common: football team, music, running, children etc.

Finally, I would advise you to enjoy networking. Not only is it a cost effective way of doing business, but it can become part of your social life too, which is particularly important if you are a sole trader or owner of a small company.

This blog was originally written in 2010 and has been updated for re-publication.

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