Business networking for pleasure and profit
Business networking can be scary. I remember the nerves the first time I walked into a room full of strangers at a networking event. For some, online networking provides a more comfortable place to mingle and chat with other firms. But some still struggle to unlock any value from networking, online or in person. The strategies for getting results from networking are very similar, whether it’s on Twitter or at your local Chamber of Commerce. I spoke to professional networker Lorna Trent to get her tips on how to not just become successful at networking, but also how to make it a pleasure!
Lorna Trent gets paid to network on behalf of other firms. She has nearly 20 years of networking experience, 10 of those gained at Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI). At DCCI she helped reinvigorate a networking programme, which grew from 10 events to over one hundred per year.
As a result of the networking opportunities they created, DCCI came second in a national competition for Excellence in Networking.
Arranging events aimed at different types of business networkers was central to DCCI’s strategy, said Lorna. They varied the size, theme and venue of their many meetings.
Business networking tip #1: Find a networking group or format that you’re comfortable with. Some groups are very unstructured, while others are quite the opposite. Visit different types of meeting to get a feel for which format would suit you.
Networking generates income
A common complaint from non-networkers is that they tried it but it didn’t bring in any business.
After her time at DCCI, Lorna went to the non-profit housing organisation BCHA, as fundraising manager. Lorna spent much of her time networking and identified that around 60% of donations came through networking contacts.
Business networking tip #2: Give networking time to get results. Whether you’re tweeting as part of #dorsethour or going to your local Chamber business breakfast, don’t expect to come away from your first or even second meeting with some hot business leads. Be patient and they will come.
Learn to enjoy networking
After leaving BCHA, Lorna spent time working out what she wanted to do next. Whilst analysing what she was good at and really enjoyed doing, she identified her strength in business networking. Could this strength be converted into a business?
What Lorna really enjoys about business networking is connecting people. She listens to people talking about their situation, their needs and aspirations, and she spots opportunities to connect them with someone who could be able to help.
As a result of helping others, Lorna also helps the organisations she represents. People like and trust her - key ingredients to securing business, donations or support.
Business networking tip #3: A great way to start networking is to ask people about themselves and to listen with genuine interest. The best networkers listen more than they talk.
The benefits of a professional business networker
Today, Lorna goes to several networking events each month on behalf of her clients. She was initially surprised that most of her clients were already busy networkers themselves. She had expected to be working for people who didn’t want to network.
Because her clients are successful networkers, they know the power of business networking. They hire Lorna because they can’t get to as many networking meetings as they’d like.
Lorna makes it clear that she’s not a sales rep for her clients. Her role starts and ends with business networking, where she connects people who have needs with those who could help supply what’s required.
Business networking tip #4: Accept that most people you meet at a networking event are there to sell. Listen to what they have to offer, because it could help you or someone you know, and by helping someone they then become keen to help you.
Making business networking work for you
Lorna does not use social media. She set up a Twitter account three years ago and has tweeted once. For her, networking is about meeting people face to face.
However, the networking principles she describes - listening to people, connecting people, and building trust - apply whether you’re networking through tweets or at a breakfast meeting.
However, there was one tip I wanted from Lorna that particularly applies to an offline or real-world networking event: how do you find someone to talk to at a networking meeting when everyone else seems to be chatting away?
I recommend that you turn up early to networking events, because that way it’s easier to engage in conversations as people arrive. But what happens if you turn up later and the room is packed with small groups chatting away over coffee? How do you avoid wasting your time by being a wallflower?
Business networking tip #5: Look at the body language to find a group that’s still in the shallow end of a conversation. They’re exchanging pleasantries but nothing serious. They’ll welcome someone new into the group and some will even be grateful to have another person to talk to.
Business networking in Dorset
There are networking groups in Dorset to suit all tastes. Some are referral groups that only allow one member per trade or profession and try to keep a score of how much business they’ve generated. Others offer little more than somewhere to chat over coffee and a breakfast.
There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ approach to networking. There’s just what works for you and what doesn’t. Here’s a list of business networking groups in Dorset.
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