Networking is seen by many as an essential business activity in todays business environment.  An absolute must amongst small and micro business owners.  Seen as allow cost way to develop leads and relationships that hopefully brings business. And it’s everywhere, you could network morning, noon and night, every day and still not scratch the surface.  At the time of writing we run three events every month, sometimes four.  Some people love it, others dread it – but there is a constant.  Most people are awful at it.

As an organisation we have sat down with hundreds of business owners(thousand if you include work prior to the BSO) and the vast majority of people want more opportunities to meet more business owners.  This is perfectly logical as the number one problem that business owners face is the need to win more business.  But it doesn’t matter how much you do, people still don’t get it, and so many opportunities are missed it is unreal.

work prior to the BSO) and the vast majority of people want more opportunities to meet more business owners.  This is perfectly logical as the number one problem that business owners face is the need to win more business.  But it doesn’t matter how much you do, people still don’t get it, and so many opportunities are missed it is unreal.

In a short blog article we can’t cover everything, but we can get the old great matter working.

The problem with networking.

A few years I conducted a little research, asking people why they networked.  The top two answers will not surprise you.To win more business

  1. To win more business
  2. Being a business owner is a lonely place to be, so people gravitated towards others in a similar position.

We did get weird ones.  Free food and drink was one, because the boss told me to another.  My favourite was, networking keeps me away from the wife and kids – I think that guy had problems in all fairness, but who’s to judge.

However, focusing on the first point in this blog, that’s the first problem.  People want to win more business, in other words they’re going networking to sell.  The problem is no one is there to buy.  When was the last time you went saying I really hope I meet a web designer today because I want a new one.  It doesn’t happen.

Everyone denies it, but they’re all liars.  The second we get a sniff of someone who could buy our services we get all excited and we go into sales mode.  The automatic response is that the barriers go up, and you get nowhere – thats human nature.  You could be selling £20 notes for a tenner, people still wouldn’t buy them.

In fact, it’s worse than that.  Because this happens so often, mostly by multi level markers I’ll add, we go into events with barriers already up. 

This is your first tip – Networking is not a sales activity, it’s a marketing activity, and should be treated as such.

Let me ask a question.  If you were going to run an advert.  You’d research your sector, profile your potential clients, put in an action point to get the reader to do something.  That something would not be “Buy my stuff NOW” especially in the B2B arena. 

You’d get them to do something that adds them to your sales process.  Perhaps a call, perhaps a meeting, perhaps requesting to send them information – something, but it wouldn’t be going for the kill would it.

Sales is a little like dating (a whole different blog topic).  You wouldn’t go to a bar, meet the girl of your dreams and immediately try to jump into bed with them would you.  Well some would, but the majority would try to get a date, or permission to call to get a date, wouldn’t you.  When networking this should be the same, talk about things so you take it to the next stage, perhaps permission to call, agreement to send something. 

Treat your networking as a marketing activity, the aim is to locate potential targets and then nurture them through a sales process.

Tip two – Who do you want to speak to, and why?

When networking, your conversations will undoubtably turn to who you’re trying to speak to.  Most people can deal with almost everyone, as long as they can afford you.

When I first started my networking strategy around 2010 I looked at things the other way round, and focused why my potential clients would join the organisation I was working for at the time.  I looked at the problems they had, and what we solved.  The problems we solved for accountants were different to those of say web designers.  Even if the problems were the same, the approach was different. 

So I profiled my potential client base.  I understood the problems they faced, and I knew how we could help.  Because I knew what their problems were, I knew what to talk about and the way to talk to them.  Because I understood my potential girl of my dreams, what her pain points are, I knew how to get my first date.  Never salesey, never pushy.  I talked about them.

Before going to your next networking event, profile your potential client base, it’s really easy to do.  BSO members can help.  I know that members have got guides, white papers and ebooks freely available.  KDM have a great ebook which I know they won’t mind me giving the link to (click HERE).  Find out what problems they face, how they communicate, and how you solve their problems.

Tip three – I know who they are, now where are they?

A phrase we use a lot is “to go fishing where the fish are”.

By profiling you clients you should also know where to start looking.  If you were looking to catch sharks, it’s unlikely you catch them fishing in your local canal, in Tipton, using maggots as bait.  Too many people go looking in the wrong place, they will be. 

We mentioned before that number one on the reasons people go networking is to find more business, so when you go networking you should be asking yourself three questions.

  1. Are my potential client base at the event?
  2. Are there people at the event who could introduce me to my potential client base?
  3. Will I learn anything at the event that can help me get infant of my potential client base?

If the answer to those 3 questions is no, then you’re in the wrong room.

Start working strategically, visit places where you know where options 1 & 2 are.  If you’re looking for the legal profession, where will they be?  Probably in bars in Birmingham on a Friday lunch. 

Who will most likely have links to lawyers?  Accountants, insolvency practitioners, other suits.  Where will they be?

If you’re looking to find blue chip companies, BSO events wouldn’t be for you, the Institute of Directors would be a better place to look.  Looking for small business owners based in the Midlands however, our events are full of them.  All very logical.

By starting to work strategically in those environments you will get huge results, as long as you don’t try to sell to them there and then.

Final tip – People like to buy, not be sold to.

This is the cute part. 

Let us explain.  How often do you walk into a shop only to be pounced on “can we help you today”.  Whats your response?  No thanks just looking.

You know what you’re looking for, and you’re probably ready to buy, otherwise you wouldn’t have gone into the shop in the first place.  You know that the sales assistant will know if they have what you’re looking for, any offers they have and exactly where they are in the shop.

But we still say “no thanks, just looking”.  Why?  It’s because if they have what we want and someone is standing in front of you, with the very thing in their hands, then a decision has to be made.  You may not want them today.  You may want to look around.  You may be waiting for payday – whatever.  We don’t like being sold to.

But we like to buy.  We all feel good when we’ve been shopping.  Psychologists and Neuroscientists can tell you why, I just know it feels good when we buy something – unless its under distress (who really likes spending money having the boiler serviced).

So as networkers we should allow people to buy from us, and never sell to them.  Develop stories around the very problems that you’ve found when you’ve profiled them.  Let them say, I’ve got that problem, talk to me.  The beauty is, they may ask for the first date, and even better they may tell you when it’s time when they want to jump into bed with you.

Obviously networking is huge topic and skills may take years to develop.  Knowing thousands of businesses around the Midlands I know very few who I’d classify as excellent networkers. 

Hopefully this blog has been useful and started to get the grey matter working.  Most importantly have fun, try things out, and be brave.  Talking to strangers isn’t always dangerous even if they have got sweets with them (I‘m old enough to remember the “Stranger Danger” adverts).

If you’re ever unsure or need any help, you know how to contact us (our contact details are plastered all over this website).  We’ll be happy to spend a few minutes, member or non member, to help you on your networking journey.

Thanks for reading.
Brett Sheldon
Founder of The Business Support Organisation.

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