John Sweeney from Business Doctors talks about optimising networking opportunities to make sure your business thrives
In a retail business, servicing enquiries for customers and potential customers is all consuming.
Keeping on top of the activities generated in office hours from the inbound phone calls and shop visitors is never easy.
You probably have no time left to go looking for the high value customers your business really needs to move to the next level.
However, out of office hours there are substantial opportunities to make connections with influential people who will drive your business forward.
In every town and city there are a wide variety of networking opportunities. Many successful businesses thrive by finding a formula that translates hours of networking into repeat sales orders and successful long-term relationships.
Formal or informal?
Before investing any time or money, establish what you hope to achieve from networking.
In some cases, the opportunity to occasionally unwind over a few glasses of wine with neighbouring retailers and pick up all local news is time well spent.
For the more ambitious, growth-oriented companies something more formal is worth considering. For example, BNI (Business Networking International) has hundreds of chapters in the UK.
Members attend a weekly breakfast meeting and help each other by passing referrals and introductions within the group. BNI claims that each seat is worth an average of £25k+ a year.
There are many similar organisations to BNI so check what’s available in your local area. You can usually go along to a few meetings as a guest before deciding to join.
Listen and question
Wherever you choose to do your networking, it’s sensible to make sure you’re suitably prepared.
Go armed with business cards, an open mind and take an interest in the people you meet.
People who succeed at networking are good at listening and asking questions.
Success does not happen quickly and building rapport within a network group takes time.
Once you’ve established your credentials, perhaps by sharing some of your customer success stories, your network will feel confident about passing business opportunities your way.
Networking is marketing
Networking should be approached in the same way as any other marketing expenditure.
It can be good value for small businesses compared to other marketing channels, such as advertising, which tend to be dominated by the largest brands and companies.
Networking will deliver a return providing you carefully select the right events to attend.
The better networks involve joining fees and ongoing monthly costs. It’s important to set aside some budget to cover networking costs.
Do networks to boost your business but remember it’s a two-way street and if you can help people in the room with their goals, you’re more likely to see the favour returned.
Helping other local businesses to thrive while winning new business for your own will be hugely satisfying as well as financially rewarding.