Connecting with the right people at the right time has always been essential to building a sustainable business.
Why face-to-face networking still matters
Online business networking sites like Referral Key and LinkedIn offer an easy way of cultivating contacts in the digital age – but it’s still true that nothing can compare to real, face-to-face engagement.
Meeting and interacting with prospective partners or clients makes much more of an impact than just swopping messages and contact details online. This means that to promote a start-up or small business effectively, you may have to be prepared to leave the comfort zone of the internet.
Tips for effective networking
Here we offer some tips on how best to promote a business through good, old-fashioned, face-to-face networking.
Thousands of networking events, trade shows, industry indabas and Chamber of Commerce meetings are hosted in South Africa each year.
Ideally, aim to attend only those events that attract like-minded people in complementary businesses and business sectors, or people who figure among your key target markets. That way, you’re more likely to make mutually beneficial business relationships.
Set face-to-face networking goals for yourself
Ensure you enter a meeting or event with a defined list of measurable goals in mind. You may want to meet four or five prospective clients, or one or two strategic business partners – or you may simply want to distribute a certain number of business cards to people in the room.
If you don’t initially meet your goal, resist the temptation to cut and run. Rather make a more concerted effort to network mindfully.
Be positive and welcoming
Your personal demeanour determines how easy you’ll find it to attract and engage people.
Smile, interact naturally and ensure your body language is warm and welcoming. This makes it much more likely that others will approach you for a quick chat and to swop contact details.
It’s natural to be a little nervous at first, especially if you’re not a natural extrovert – but legitimate friendliness is the best way to engage others.
Listen more than you talk
Show you’re interested in the other person. Ask questions and listen properly. That’s key to building a relationship, and to securing the other person’s interest in you.
Let a conversation develop and, as appropriate, ask about the other person’s job, interests and family. You’ll find that the conversation will organically shift to you and your business interests.
Work the room
Avoid the temptation to hang around with your colleagues or people you have already met at other networking engagements. Instead, make a real effort to meet new people.
Try not to spend more than 10 to 15 minutes with any one party and you’ll be amazed at how many new contacts you’ll make within one or two hours of face-to-face networking.
Don’t forget business cards
Conclude each chat by handing over your business card. This is a tangible reminder of who you are and what you’re hoping to achieve.
It’s also the easiest way of promoting your business and ensures that new acquaintances have your contact details, so they can contact you if they choose.
Always follow up
When you get back to the office, send a follow-up email to all the new contacts you’ve made. Try and personalise each message by mentioning one or two unique discussion points.
Ensure you set out your individual business needs in a bit more detail, and don’t forget to thank them for their time and to offer your assistance in return.
Networking at The Workspace
Many branches of The Workspace host regular networking events, designed specifically to encourage face-to-face networking among our members. This helps members forge connections and valuable business relationships, as well as simply making work more fun.