In our last few blogs, (which you can read here), we have given you some tips and advice on attending networking events, how to choose the right one for you and how to raise your business profile at these events. Once you have joined the right networking group for your business, it is essential that you start to build your strong business network with your associates.

In this blog, we are going to look at some positive actions that will help you to build and nurture that strong and supportive network of business owners around you. People you can rely on to advise you and help to promote your company as you form a strong business network to grow your business. Tom Ricci of Ricci Communications says “Today, building successful business development is contingent upon building trusted relationships to meeting new prospects.” You can read Tom’s tips on building a business network here. We have also put a few of our own tips together to help you create valuable connections, get your brand noticed and build potential to convert prospects into new clients.

Have a purpose

As with all marketing tools, if you wish to gain more clients through networking events, it is crucial that you know who you are looking for. Have you pinpointed your target market? Do you know the other businesses in your network who may also be targeting similar customers? Think carefully about your pitch and make sure you are clear about the type of customer you need to connect with. Even better, do your homework beforehand and name the person/people you would like to be introduced to.

Be selective. Building a strong business network is not about the number of people you meet, it is about connecting with the right people who can introduce you to potential clients.

Develop your communication skills

Networking events can be overwhelming, especially when you are new to them, so our second tip is to develop effective communication habits:

  • Listen attentively and make mental (or actual) notes about your associates’ pitches.
  • Put together some ice-breaker ideas, so you are not tongue-tied or have nothing to say. Tip: Ask how a project is coming along. This shows you have listened, and you are interested in the progress of their business.
  • Try to think of your business associates as part of your team who all have different perspectives and specialities. This will broaden your outlook and open your mind to innovative ideas.
  • Contribute to the general conversation. It is easy to sit on a zoom call and not say anything to anyone. If you are shy, use the chat function to participate.
  • During face-to-face meetings, maintain eye contact with the person who is talking. Someone who sits doodling all through a pitch, presentation or conversation is not listening attentively.

The old adage of the more you put in, the more you will get out applies. So, by engaging with others will help on your journey towards growing a strong business network

Stay in touch with associates

We all know that relationships need work to succeed. Think of it like dating or forming a lasting friendship – these relationships don’t form overnight, do they? It is the same for business relationships. Meeting business owners at a networking meeting, being enthusiastic about their businesses and even having a few follow-up coffees or 1-2-1’s does
not equate to relationship building. Keep turning up at meetings, follow and like/comment on social media posts, engage in conversation, suggest a catch-up every couple of months. For someone to recommend you, they need to know you and have confidence in your product or service. As well as staying in touch with your contacts, set aside some time for new connections too.

Don’t be selfish

Although a focus on your goals is essential to grow a strong business network, do not be blinkered. Be considerate of your associates and their business needs too. You could introduce them to someone outside the network who you think could benefit their business? Or encourage new members to come along who you think would be a good fit for the group
or who could be potential clients for other businesses. Share and comment on social media posts. Be an active participant by acknowledging and returning the support you have received in equal measure.

Business development through customer relationships

You can also build a strong business network from previous customers. Make sure that you stay connected – via email, social media or by sending out newsletters. Your customers may know others who could be potential clients for you – ask for an introduction. Your past or existing customers could also be prospects for other businesses at your networking event. Customers can provide you with great marketing materials by providing you with testimonials about your business. These can be posted on to your website, used as content for social media posts or newsletters and rewritten into longer case studies for articles or features.

Strategic Partners

When looking at business development, you may form a good working relationship with another business owner or customer that you would like to develop further. It does not necessarily need to be a formal agreement or partnership. It can simply be two like-minded business associates who want to work together to help grow their respective businesses. This may be because one business enhances the other’s service or products, or maybe you offer complementary products or services. However, to take advantage of mutual opportunities, you may need to think about laying a few ground rules,
such as:

  • Agreeing to meet once per week to discuss ongoing projects
  • Listing options of cooperation, such as sharing marketing materials, featuring in one
    another’s newsletters etc.
  • Putting a referral framework in place and following up on whether this was successful
  • Taking care of one another’s customers
  • Both of you should be open about what you expect from the partnership
  • If the partnership isn’t successful, discuss how you can change things and agree together on ending the partnership if it just isn’t working for one or both!

If you would like more tips on building a strong business network, this American Express article lists seven tips for success. Remember that building relationships takes time, so be patient and put the effort in. If you are unsure on how to proceed or your confidence needs a boost, why not join the Network Inspired community? We give business owners, start-ups and creative freelancers a space to network, build a strong community, develop future opportunities, and develop their confidence along the way. Take a look at our membership options and let us inspire you to build a strong business network!