Networking for new business development

Most people accept that business referrals and personal introductions are the best approach to new business development. However, to gain referrals and introductions you first need a relationship founded on the principles of “know, like, trust” and that cannot be achieved at a one-off networking event.

An event organised with the sole purpose of networking often disappoints as a medium for business development. At best, it can only deliver very early stage contacts rather than new people ready and willing to genuinely network with you and to have conversations that might lead to business opportunities for you. It can satisfy the early stage of name and number collection but in most cases a networking event is just one notch above talking to random people on the tube or taking a couple of pages out of the Yellow Pages.

If you wish to attend networking events as part of your new business development strategy, and there are other perfectly valid reasons for attending events, then what really matters is what happens before the event; your preparation and planning. The second most important thing is what actions you take after the event has finished.

Here are a few tips to help make networking events good for business development:

  • Don’t expect to gain business at an event. One possible exception being an event that you attend regularly where you have built up genuine relationships with others.
  • Always choose events carefully to ensure others who may be attending will have similar interests to you. This may involve clusters built around; location, business types, business sector, business size or some other parameters that are relevant to your target market.
  • Try to get the list of attendees a couple of days before the event and do some desk research to decide who you really want to meet. Plan what you want to say to each person, don’t just go with a generic message or elevator pitch.
  • If the event provides the facility to pre-book meetings this may be useful but beware that it might also warn people off – it all depends on the message you send them and whether meeting you will be valuable for them.
  • Have a plan for each conversation, just as you would when meeting a new contact in a more formal ‘office’ environment, including a call to action – what do you want them to do as a result of meeting you.
  • Follow your plan through, agree next actions with the other party and make sure you follow through. I understand that a high percentage of people do not follow up with contacts they make at networking events – what a total waste of time!
  • Review every event and calculate the RoI you get for the time invested. If it delivers what you are looking for do it again, if it does not then try something else. Having said that, as mentioned earlier, if the event was your first visit to a regular group, don’t expect results on your first visit, and if you’re a shy type just starting out on ‘networking’, try a few non-target sessions to build your confidence in approaching new contacts.

You need to treat networking events as you would any other early stage marketing activity; it is a numbers game and you need to constantly review how effective it is being. You would not continue with mail campaigns if the results were progressively getting worse so you must do the same for networking which is an even more expensive use of your time.