Business development 11 October 2016

How to tackle networking as a new business owner

To successfully tackle networking you need to build valuable business relationships

Managing director at law firm Legatus Law, Rashmi Dubé, provides her networking tips for new business owners struggling to widen their web of contacts.

At some point business we are going to be tasked with going networking. Be it at our boss’s request, or as an objective we set ourselves as part of our own remit as a business owner.

“Why must we do it?” you may ask, especially if the thought of it fills you with dread. Well, it is to build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships to help you, and your business succeed.

Don’t think of it as networking

It’s all about how you perceive networking, and if you change how you view it you can change how you feel about it.

Networking is not about selling. It is about building up valuable relationships. You may have reasons for networking – be that selling something, getting a new job or client, but if you are going to network well you need to establish it is not all about sales and it is not speed dating for business owners.

It is easy to make excuses not to network too – “I’m too busy” or I’ve got so much work to do already” are often good ones.

These shouldn’t be excuses, as I believe you always have time for personal development and remember that networking is key in building relationships, devolving skills and increasing your credibility. There really are no excuses.

You decide to jump in, but where do you start?

A good way in to networking is internally through your business’s structure. but if you’re a small business owner this may not be an option for you.

How about others in your industry? Are there any social events going on? Or anyone you would like to be your mentor, or just want to get to know better? Just ask them for a coffee and a chat. This is an easy and informal way to get to know them and you will already have loads in common so will not be stuck for conversation.

If you are a freelancer or work in a very small team, you need to work out who you would like to connect with. A useful place to start is by reaching out to groups of like-minded people you want to get to know.

For example, if you were a writer you could get in touch with publishers, journalists and broadcasters. Find a place or organisation where these people meet and go along, or create your own event.

If you are struggling to find networking events, ask your friends and colleagues what events they have been to that they’ve liked. One example could be breakfast networking mornings, where business owners come together to collaborate on ideas, discuss business and help each other out.

This is a great way to make new contacts and also a space where you can practice skills such as mingling and public speaking, as they often have slots for you to address the group with a bit about yourself and your business.

Once you’ve made first contact, what’s next?

The most important part of networking is the follow up. Make sure to note down the names of the people you meet as soon as you can, as it is all too easy to make a great contact, and then when you go to search for them on LinkedIn you have no idea what their name was.

Invite them on LinkedIn soon after the event, be sure to adapt the invite to each person and remind them of where you met each other.

After they have accepted your connection, it’s time for the essential follow up, you could have plenty of connections but if you don’t follow up with conversation they will not form into relationships.

Try to think what strengths you have to bring to the table, what useful skills or attributes can you share? What I’ve found is that most of the time when I meet people they want to help me too – because it is the right thing to do.

Still not convinced?

If the prospect of talking to a room full of like-minded individuals all wanting to help each other still frightens you, think of it this way – would you be nervous to start a conversation on the bus, ask someone for a hand at the gym or introduce yourself to someone at a party? These are all types of networking, and when you think of it like that it becomes a lot easier.

Rashmi Dubé is managing director at Legatus Law and author of ‘Making a Splash, A Personal Guide to Networking’

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