Woody Allen once said: 80 percent of success is showing up. These words were related to the film industry, but they can be applied to any other industry. Effective networking by showing up in places where relationships can be established is a good way to become known.
Let us find out then what networking really is and how it helps small enterprises win customers.
Build a network
Networking is about building a network of business contacts that improve the efficiency of our business activity. It is the ability which helps build a network of lasting relations based on trust, which, when looked at from perspective, makes it easier to win new customers and decreases the costs of operation. “The financial resources of small and medium enterprises are generally smaller than those of a corporation. Because of that their development depends on the agility, inventiveness, and having a friendly environment of customers and partners. Thanks to powerful social capital, it is easier for them to recruit reliable employees, they do not spend as much on marketing, they win loyal customers using cheaper methods, and they work on innovative products,” emphasizes Grzegorz Turniak, the Polish networking guru, who introduced BNI Polska to the Polish market, an organization of business recommendations whose activity is based on effective networking, who also co-authored multiple books on networking. Without the ability to build an effective contact network, it is difficult nowadays to achieve success in the professional area, to win business partners or new customers, not only on the corporate level, but also in small and medium enterprises.
Establish contacts… everywhere
First of all, when operating within one area, selling a specific product, e.g. garage door, it is a good idea to prepare a list of people you want to reach. These will be people that can both become your customers and inspire you and who can provide you with new information (e.g. experts) or a relationship that can add prestige to your company.
A valuable solution for small enterprises
What are the most important principles of networking within the context of the operation of small enterprises?
First of all, entrepreneurs should develop and incorporate networking into their company’s development strategy. When they employ several or over a dozen employees, they should be effective enough with delegating and evaluating tasks to be able to show up in places where they can learn something new and meet potential customers or business partners. Secondly, it is worth being an active member of several organizations for entrepreneurs and professionals. Thanks to active participation in various events, they get the chance to improve their visibility and build credibility. This makes winning orders and customers much easier. Thirdly, they should form alliances with entrepreneurs who offer complementary services or products to recommend them and to be recommended by them.
Networking Advocate and Enthusiast Mingling Maven – he held over 1,000 networking sessions for more than 100,000 participants. He introduced BNI Polska (a company organizing business recommendations whose activity is based on effective networking) to the Polish market. He is the President of the Academy of Recommendations (in Polish: Akademia Rekomendacji), a training and consulting company, and the President of the Professional Speakers Association (in Polish: Stowarzyszenie Profesjonalnych Mówców). He also co-authored books on networking.
They include journalists, who can publish information about your company and its successes.
But how do you do it? Above all, in order to build contacts, you have to meet and talk. Simple as it may sound, it might turn out to be difficult in practice. When you already know who you would like to reach, think where you can meet these people. Opportunities are many, but it will be most likely during various business events. Trade meetings, conferences, trade fairs or trade trainings are all an ideal place for establishing contacts with people from the industry and those interested with products offered by your company. Make sure to also take advantage of local events, such as city/township festivals, school jubilees, and even local festive events, which are frequented by many locals. It is a good idea to be a member of various trade organizations, e.g. associations, chambers of commerce and industry, business clubs, as well as networking societies/clubs. They can easily be found on the Internet. Networking events are the perfect place to establish contacts, e.g. breakfasts during which you can meet many fascinating people.
New books on networking
The World’s Best Known Marketing Secret. Building Your Business with Word-of-Mouth Marketing (Dr I. Misner,
R. Chmura), Profesjonalny Networking. Kontakty, które procentują [Professional Networking. Contacts that Pay Off (G. Turniak, R.Wendt), Praktyczny poradnik networkingu [A Practical Guide to Networking] (G. Turniak, W. Antosiewicz), Zanurz się w błękitnym oceanie. Jak networking wspiera rozwój [Take a Dive in the Deep Blue Ocean. How Networking Supports Company Growth] (G. Turniak, K. Rumianowski), Networking for Career Development
Take advantage of modern technologies
For the purpose of building your contact network, you can take advantage of networking portals and create your own profile. They provide numerous possibilities. Not only can you display your CV, but you also have the opportunity to interact with other users: by inviting them to contact you, becoming friends with them in social media or by participating in hobby groups which link people from the same school, people connected with a certain line of business or business topic. You can also create your own group and exchange your experiences. People who meet online, for instance during a discussion on a trade forum, frequently also meet on other forums, for example in a group connecting people with identical hobbies. New ties are established this way, which makes business contact this much easier. It is easier to do business with someone who shares the same passions than with a perfect stranger. Portals give you the opportunity to establish business contacts that can be transferred into real life.
When participating in planned business events, it is not enough just to show up and listen to the lecture. You have to actively participate. Prepare yourself for meetings like that, make sure you look like a professional, prepare a couple of sentences for small talk purposes (good subjects are hobbies, interests, current events, bad subjects are diseases, religious, racial, political issues, talking about your children). Take your business cards, which should include short information about what your company does, e.g. the company name and information such as “professional garage doors”, information about a success or award, e.g. Business Champion. Thus prepared, make sure to arrive a little early (15 minutes before the event starts), this will make it easier to make first contacts. Most likely, some people will come early and will be looking for contact. When the event/conference starts, it is much harder to start a conversation, especially that the majority of people talk with their friends and acquaintances.
Useful networking sites:
www.bnipolska.pl, tydziennetworkingu.pl – an event organized
at the same time all over the world to support the concept of networking
Coffee breaks should also be used to meet new people. A proper course of conversation is crucial: start with general issues, proceed towards more detailed ones, and finish with company issues. When meeting others, be sure to recommend your acquaintances to other people, it is very likely that someone will recommend an interesting person to you and that they will recommend you to others. During networking meetings there are people whose task is to make it easier for the participants to establish contacts – use this to your advantage.
Remember that networking is not sales. “Above all, when participating in a networking event, do not jump to selling too quickly – wait until you build good relations. Also, take care of your appearance and image, for instance by creating a Linkedin profile. Smearing your competitors is a critical mistake. Many entrepreneurs forget about maintaining the contacts they established and as result, they become frustrated that the time dedicated to networking fails to bring the desired results. It is a good idea to connect using a social network and send e-mails thanking for the conversation within 24 hours of making acquaintance,” says Grzegorz Turniak.
Networking is loved by some and hated by others. Why are the opinions so contrasting? It is rather simple, some do it well, some do it poorly.
First mistakes appear at the stage of determining the goals of participation in a networking event. Instead of focusing on building relations and assessing chances for cooperation with selected people, some entrepreneurs hoard as many business cards as possible.
Another mistake is not opening up to other people, not listening to the issues that the conversation partner is describing and failing to even try to solve them. When you focus on yourself and force your offer, you will not be able to build a true relationship.
This is how we got to one of the most frequently overlooked aspects. TRUST. Without good relations based on trust, you cannot hope for a long term cooperation that is beneficial for both parties.
Founder of Towarzystwa Biznesowe SA
By observing guidelines provided above, you will find it much easier to build a network of professional business contacts. Remember to take good care of the network you already have by getting in touch on a regular basis, at least than every three months and not just when you are trying to sell something. All kinds of congratulatory notes, invitations to organized events are very welcome.
- search for contacts effectively
- build and expand your effective network of contacts
- recommend and endorse others, selflessly
- feel free to small talk
- be active in organizations
- maintain your relations on a regular basis
By: Grażyna Jancik