Your network is one of the most important tools for business success – a support system of like-minded clients, peers and investors can be crucial to help your business grow and thrive. So how can business owners get out there? Here, East Midlands based networking expert and the founder of The Connections Club, Barbara Hodgson, gives her top tips on how to network purposefully in 2019.

Giver’s gain
Going into networking with a ‘sell, sell, sell’ attitude is a sure way to scare potential new customers off. There should be no need for hard selling – just taking an interest in other people and their business, and actively seeking opportunities for other people and ourselves. Ask plenty of questions – it is essential to understand a person’s values, qualities, target markets and synergy, so you can both get the most out a networking experience. If you’re looking for referrals it works both ways, so understanding a person’s working style is key to matching them with the right potential customer. If you’re interested in strategic partnerships, membership organisations provide the opportunity to really get to know someone to understand how your skills may complement each other’s businesses to fuel growth.

Find a style that suits you
This mostly comes down to structured vs un-structured, but it is important to remember that combination usually gives the best results. Structured meetings usually have a clear agenda, often with a smaller number of attendees, which can work for people looking to build close and lasting relationships. Larger, more informal meetings may have up to 80 attendees which change every month, making each meeting an exciting new opportunity. This format may work for people looking to contact a large number of decision makers over a short period of time but may feel daunting to networking novices! Both networking styles complement each other, but keep in mind that the price often determines the calibre of attendees; a high-quality group is more likely to provide a quality pool of connections who are serious about business success.

Do your homework
Lists of attendees are usually available before the event. Contact the meeting organiser to ask for a copy and do your research through LinkedIn and their company websites. Most networking organisers will be happy to fulfil requests, so if there is a certain person you would like to meet or sit next to, don’t be afraid to request an introduction or specific seat. To maximise your time, set yourself some clear objectives, for example talk to 5 different people or 2 decision makers from a target sector. This will keep the focus clear and help you to move around the room.

Shout about it
Social media is a great tool to promote your business and to get the most out of networking, it’s essential to post about your attendance. Most events have specific hashtags to help build traction – which are also a great way to find people you met at the event online. Be sure to follow up your networking conversations on LinkedIn, either straight after the event or within the same week, to strengthen the connection and keep your business offering fresh in their mind.

Consistency
Regular attendance to will help to build affiliations and connections with potential clients and referrers, giving you a regular opportunity to ensure that a room full of people truly understand what you do. In a membership setting, where people are meeting the same people each month for example, I have seen some incredibly powerful changes for many businesses in terms of growth and investment once that sense of trust is established. For the more nervous networkers among us, regular attendance is also important to build confidence which can reflect in other aspects of business success. Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals – a good testimonial also makes a referrer look good! And lastly, enjoy it – meeting fellow businesspeople is a fun and insightful aspect of work to help you learn and grow both personally and professionally.

If your interested in networking in the new year Barbara will be launching The Connections Club in Northampton – a membership networking organisation for like-minded decision makers who are serious about growing their businesses.

Contact Barbara at barbara@yourbusinessmatters.co

find out more about the Connections Club here: https://yourbusinessmatters.co/connections-club/.

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