Networking is becoming more and more popular as a method of meeting business contacts and building relationships. Some people like to network to meet like minded people and develop a support network because it can be lonely if you are working on your own. Others want to seek out people who can refer them to new sources of business, or might even become a client themselves. Yet with so much choice available, how do you decide on a strategy to meet your business goals?
First of all you need to be clear about what your goals are. If you are a business owner looking to grow then your goals are likely to be quite different to those of an early stage entrepreneur looking for contacts and routes to market. In this article, I consider networking specifically for growth, Using Ansoff’s Matrix which is a popular tool for considering how to develop your services/products.
Existing Product/Existing Market = Generic Growth
For those seeking to take this approach, word of mouth is a useful marketing tool. One of the best ways to do this is to build strong business relationships at a network. Consistency is key. Consistency of attendance and consistency of message – what your business offers and how it can benefit others. Practice your 1 minute introduction or “elevator pitch” so that you include how you have helped others and what the BENEFITS are – not – I am a life coach…..or marketing specialist or whatever. So what – I would ask? Why should I refer you to someone else and what makes your business unique?
New Product/Existing Market = Product Development
Once you have become a regular attendee at the networking group, then perhaps ask the organisers if you can deliver a short presentation to the group. By this time you are likely to have built up the trust of the organiser and therefore are more likely to be received in a positive manner particularly if you suggest a topic that you know will be of relevance to the group.
Most meetings have some type of speaker slot for maybe 20 minutes, and it is a great way to educate the audience on an aspect of your business that would be helpful to them. For example, the life coach might talk about strategies for managing change (useful in these turbulent times) or the marketing specialist could provide tips on how to write an interesting press release. You could try to link the timing of this presentation to the launch of your new product – so that at the end of the session you could talk briefly about your new product and the BENEFITS and provide a special offer to network members to try it out.
Also, once you start to trust the other network members, they can be a great source of feedback when developing a new product. You might make that the focus of your conversation, to ask them for their input e.g. we are thinking of offering free name tagging on our products – what do you think? So use the network to test out your product ideas.
Existing Product/New Market = Market Development
This approach takes some planning so that you can research where your “new market” might be found. For example, if you were running a web design business that was already successful in working with dental practices, you might choose to target other professionals like lawyers and architects because your product might be easily transferable. Be clear about what makes your business unique and relevant to the new market.
Carry out some research and find out what networking groups/events/conferences these people are likely to attend. If you find out about a network by doing internet research, then contact the organiser in advance and ask them to tell you the type of businesses that attend, how it is run and if there is an opportunity for you to introduce yourself to the group.
Industry specific conferences are great ways to meet a lot of people from that sector, and to find out who the key players are. Get yourself known in the sector, attend their events, read the trade press and learn as much as you can about them. It can take time to build up knowledge about a new sector, so be prepared that it is likely to cost you time and money to do this. Often, industry specific conferences can be expensive to attend, so do your homework – again ask the organisers in advance, how many people are expected to attend etc. sometimes you can look up a previous year’s conference programme to get a feel for the quality of speakers.
I spoke to one business owner who was looking to target a new sector and her biggest problem was lack of preparation. She had not thought of any industry relevant examples prior to attending the event, and then began to stutter when asked what work she had done in the sector before. Make sure you look, feel and speak confidently about how you benefit clients in this specific market.
New Product/New Market = Diversification
This strategy is the most difficult because it is a step into the unknown. In the small business sector, this stategy can be opportunity led when you meet someone at a networking event, and as a result you decide to create a service in collaboration with them to target a new sector. It can take up a lot of time and resource and is fairly high risk. From a networking perpsective, if you are looking to diversify and not sure which market to move into, then ask lots of questions and listen carefully to the responses. Women in particular have a natural talent to notice things and collect a huge amount of data every day. Your challenge is to distill the data you collect at a network meeting and consider what it is telling you. It is probably more relevant to attend networks for more established businesses to do this kind of research because you might be able to spot a market gap, or learn about what sectors NOT to go into.
It does not matter how you decide to grow your business because networking can be of benefit. So plan your strategy and make sure that you go networking with a purpose!
About the Author:
Sue Stockdale is founder of Mission Possible, to help women to achieve their goals in business, using the same principles that led to her success in becoming the first British woman to ski to the Magnetic North Pole. Since 1997, the company has worked with 1000s of women worldwide. Services include an award-winning businesswomen’s network, and peer support groups for growing businesses. A fitness fanatic, Sue has represented Scotland in athletics, and in 2004 finished runner-up in TV’s Superhuman. Her academic achievements include an MBA in Entrepreneurship and an MSc in Quality Management. She lectures at several Universities on leadership and entrepreneurship and her advice on motivation regularly appears in the media. She is author of Kickstart Your Motivation and Secrets of Successful Women Entrepreneurs.