Take a deep breath, open the door and smile – Author Lisa North

Thank you, Lisa North, one of our Partner Members, who has taken up her pen to be on of our guest writers, we hope you enjoy her article.

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‘People buy people’ the saying goes. So, true, but how do you get prospective clients in front of you ready to buy your goods and services? You probably have a website, some brochures or leaflets and do a bit of advertising. Waiting for prospective clients to get in touch can be excruciating, especially if you are starting up your business, or moving into a new area.

I got fed up with waiting for the telephone to ring. The Clients I did have were very complimentary about my work and gave my name to their friends, but I wanted more. How could I reach more people? Could these people then do more of this personal recommendation work for me? In a former career, we were expected to attend business development meetings, better known as ‘Networking’. I began to explore the whole networking concept and to try and develop it to help my own business.

It can be a very scary concept – walking into a room of strangers, and beginning a conversation with someone you don’t know. Like many experiences in life, the first time we step out of our comfort zone and try something new is the hardest part of the process. How you research and approach the networking world will make this first meeting easier. Once you attend, and you know how to be effective you will get hooked – I did!

So, what is ‘Networking’? A group of boring people standing around trying to sell you something you don’t need, or a group of people enjoying each other’s company and developing friendships and long-term relationships. Both can be termed ‘Networking’ groups but the first group will get nothing from each other, and the second will get an enormous amount of support, camaraderie and more business.

It is said that each person you meet at a network group knows at least 250 other people well, consisting of both family, friends and business contacts. If you could tap into that stream of potential clients what could that do for your business? How you access that stream will depend greatly on your relationship with the people you meet. The ‘quick win’ strategy will have you falling at the first hurdle. There are many things to consider, with the biggest of them all being NOT SELLING at the meeting. People love to buy, not be sold to. By giving your fellow networkers time to get to know you as a person, with a life as well as a business, they will feel they can pass on your name with confidence if they get asked that question “ Do you know anyone who….” Equally, you will be able to do the same for them. There is no requirement with many networking organisations to find referrals for other members. It is just something you will be happy to do if someone asks you the above question.

Networking needs to be looked at as a skill that you develop in much the same way as building relationships with your paying clients. You want loyalty, longevity and commitment from your clients, and the same from your networking contacts. These people are the key business introducers for your business.

Starting networking can be a minefield as there are so many groups around. Some are very relaxed and informal, others more regimented and, as a rule, costlier. Working your way through the choices can be trial and error, so an informed approach is a better way to go. Research your groups, and talk to people you know who attend.

You’ve made a booking for your very first meeting – so what’s next? What do you wear? What do you take with you? How do you introduce yourself? I know when I first went I overdressed, took all my wedding albums and talked about myself far too much! It was exhausting, and I didn’t enjoy it at all. In fact, I vowed never to go again. A few months later a friend and I were discussing the stuffiness surrounding the group we had previously attended. Neither of us had enjoyed it, and we both had ideas of what a good group could be like. We researched for a while and decided to open a local branch of Women in Rural Enterprise (W.I.R.E). Running this taught me a great deal about the value of relationships in networking groups, rather than selling to each other.

Having a great ‘Elevator Pitch’ to use when introducing yourself is important, as well as some specific body language signals. These can make your fellow networkers sit up and take notice of you. There are also many listening skills that can be used to help you find the best contacts for you. How do you move on from one person to the next, especially if you are currently talking to someone who has lots to say? Your time is precious so ‘working the room’ needs to be as useful for you as possible. Try to use your skills from the first meeting, even if you are a guest visitor, as it will help you to choose the right network groups for you. Do your homework before you go. Find out what the ethos of the group is, who runs it, the cost, location and frequency of meetings. You can even find out who goes regularly as many of their websites maintain a list of current members which is searchable.

One last thing to think on … how effective is your business card? Do you study other peoples cards? Are they memorable? Do they make you feel the owner is trustworthy, a quality professional and do you want to put it safely in your wallet or discreetly in the bin later? There are some great ways to make your business card work harder for you too.

I will be speaking on how to succeed, and enjoy, meeting other business owners at the Societies’ annual convention in London next January. Do come along and get the low down on getting great recommendations from people who know, understand and are fans of what you do.

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