Claire Lee on connecting with new clients both online and face to face.

Diagram of people talking and networking

Networking is a great way of getting your brand/product out there into the marketplace. This can be face to face networking, or on social media through platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

We should all be networking if we want our businesses to grow. It takes most of us in some way out of our comfort zone and means we need to learn new skills but networking is a very powerful advertising tool if you do it well.

We are in a ‘people buy people’ world and you are a walking, talking advert. True, the people you network with need to have a use for your product, but they are much more likely to come to you if they know the person behind it. You are the person they are buying into, you are your product, you are your brand!

Targeting your audience online
Let’s start with digital networking. It’s vital to know who you are looking for, so your message is targeted. Are you looking for corporate clients? Are you looking for couples for weddings? Make sure you have done your research and everything is in place so when you get your first enquiry you can come straight back to them and explain what you are going to do for them.

Do you want the Meetings, Incentives, Conference & Events (MICE) market? These may come direct or via a large agency and are often easiest to track down online via LinkedIn or Twitter. LinkedIn is a B2B meeting place that now has similar functionality to Facebook. Make sure you have a headline on your profile stating who you are looking to help – by interacting with other people’s posts, your name and headline will constantly come up.

Do you want wedding/social business? If so, you probably want to have Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest pages, which you should update regularly and interact with on a daily basis (ideally). These are the best platforms for B2C requirements. These clients are probably going to buy from pictures, so lots of pictures showcasing what you can do, how versatile you are, and how clients’ events are all about them not you – this is really important. Get some testimonials on here; people want to know you are tried and tested, and you are going to do what you say you are going to do!

Join chat hours on Twitter to meet local businesses online. In my area, #hertshour is Monday 8-9pm; everybody arrives and has the #hertshour hashtag before everything they say. There is usually a topic for each evening, on which you can add your input, just remember the # so you can be seen. Turn up regularly and you will raise your profile and become well known. Work out the ones which are right for you and attend regularly – this is key.

It takes on average eight touch points before people start seeing who you are and that you understand your market and client needs. Clients will then start interacting with you and direct messaging for more information. You have to prove to them that you are an expert in your field and then people will start asking for your input – this is a great way to build up your client base. They will then start pointing people towards you; referral networking is the best form of networking. It’s the warm intro from someone they already trust that makes all the difference. It will come but you need to build up to this.

Real world networking
Face to face networking is the most powerful way to build relationships. Attend conferences, offer to speak on subjects you have experience in and go along to expos to build up your knowledge and your contacts. Take a stand at an expo and be the face behind the name, talk to people and help your brand come alive.

Put yourself up for awards in your industry. This is a great exercise as it makes you look at your business with fresh eyes and as a client ‘looking in’. Should you make it to the finals you will have your name across all channels of social media, and the publicity that goes with it. Whether you win or not you get your name up in lights on the night! Perhaps also sponsor a category of a local industry awards – this gets your name out there again and probably across the related social media channels. Whenever you appear on social media, like and share the comments and add your thoughts. It becomes an online conversation.

As with all networking, if you have said you are going to do something, you must do it. You become the reliable, dependable expert in that field. People will start to seek you out.

Networking groups
There are usually lots of networking groups in each area. Choose those that relate to the business you want to do and research which ones will work. Think about your expected return on investment, ie. how many contacts would you like to get from an event? What is your commitment to each group? Some will be paid membership with committed weekly or monthly meetings, others are drop ins. Some are great for socialising but give very little return. I do go to some of these as I like them and enjoy connecting with people but accept that my ROI is nil. There are many I have stopped attending as the ROI is nil and I don’t enjoy the meetings – accept this and find others which are suited to you and your business.

Networking events are great at connecting people and a lot of business can be gained as well as moral support. It’s a balancing act of the ones you like and the ones you get a return on. Sometimes it’s just good to be out on the social side of work, meeting other people in a similar situation.

Some local councils are also supportive of small businesses and will facilitate networking. Think about the area where you want to be – sometimes these cross county lines or multiple towns. Select a few, try them and then try some more.

Take away
When live networking, the very least you should take with you is a business card, but other marketing merchandise may also be of benefit. Aside from brochures, think of something that sells your business and fits in with your brand, something the people you meet can take back to the office/home with them that will remind them of you and what you do. This may be something that is of benefit – on my desk now I am looking at a branded tissue box, pen holder, coaster, hand cream, lip salve and USB sticks. I see them every day – for me that’s what good marketing is all about. I never forget these brands as they look at me all day; it does work!

At the end of each networking session, whether online or live, review and collate the business cards and information you have collected. If you have business cards write the date, time, location and the meeting they relate to. In a year’s time you will have forgotten! Important; do not bombard anyone with spam emails (selling your product) but do send an email saying how nice it was to meet or e-meet them, and that you would like to get a better understanding of what they do, offering a coffee or a follow up phone call. Take this relationship to the next level – how can you do business together?

Holding a networking event
If you are a venue, offer to host an event. Very often costs are covered, but not always, so do check. Sometimes it may be a complimentary room/area and tea/coffee is required which can give you the opportunity to showcase your business offering. If you have suppliers you regularly work with, ask them to come in and support you, eg. if you are a venue and you work with a florist, very often they would be happy to provide some floral decoration in return for leaving their business cards or for them attending. They probably network too and would welcome the promotion! Make sure you put everything out on social media with lots of pictures.

Building relationships
You need to network regularly; it isn’t enough to turn up once and then say I have been to that group and got nothing from it! You need to go regularly to build up relationships with people. Networking contacts are very supportive of each other. Often when they are out and someone asks them if they know of a business or venue, not only are they likely to recommend you, they are also probably going to offer to connect you directly. A new customer being handed to you, how nice! Always remember to say thank you and, if that client confirms a big order, the gesture of a bottle of wine, some flowers or a box of chocolates is always a great way to show your appreciation as without that introduction you probably wouldn’t have got that piece of business.

So, get out there and network your socks off either in person or virtually – you will reap the rewards!



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