If you own a small business selling products or services or you are a freelancer, it is crucial that your audience gets to know you and that you build a relationship with prospective customers. The quickest way to build your business reputation is by doing face-to-face business, and this is where networking wins out, particularly if you don’t have physical premises where people can meet you. Networking gives you the opportunity to raise your business profile with other business owners who could introduce you to, or even become, your clients.

When you network, you add that essential ingredient to your business profile – yourself! It has been said many times that people buy from people, and this is true. If someone asked you for a recommendation, would you advise them to go to someone you know, or someone you don’t? Networking can help to build your business profile in two ways:

  • As a ready-made customer base
  • As part of your marketing plan to promote your business

Here are our top tips for an effective networking strategy to build your business profile through networking.

Be Prepared!

Not all networking groups or events are created equal, so do your research and find out what to expect and what is expected from you in return. You can read more about the four main types of business network here. (Link to previous blog on choosing the right networking event.)

Our advice would be not to ‘wing it’, because not everyone is good at it, and you may become distracted or lose the thread of what you were saying. To others, this can look unprofessional or that you are not taking the event seriously. So, have your profile ready to go, and make sure your networking strategy includes setting a clear objective for each meeting. Engage with those present, listen attentively to what they have to say, ask questions and find out how you can help them to attain their goals.

Your Profile

There are lots of names for this: Personal brand, your story, personal or business profile, business synopsis etc. Most networking groups offer attendees a 30 second slot to tell the rest of the group who they are and what they do. There are a lot of things to think about when compiling your profile:

  • Who? Your name and name of your business (this may be the same)
  • Where? The areas you cover/website name/premises name
  • Why? Your USP. The reason you started
  • What? Your business and the benefits for your clients

Be concise with your points and remember that if you say something that makes people smile or curious, they are more likely to remember you!

Fellow attendees will probably look you up online, so once created, use your profile on LinkedIn (and other social media platforms), to introduce yourself to the online audience. Ensure your branding and username (handle) is consistent across all platforms. You can find out more about creating a personal and professional profile here.

Take advantage of opportunities

Most networking groups offer a number of opportunities to members, so take advantage of what is available:

  • Longer time slots for presentations
  • Presentations to sister groups
  • Travelling to other meetings or events

This is the perfect chance for you to ‘big up’ your business profile to a captive audience. You could ensure their interest by offering a special discount for group members. At the end of the event, ask people what they thought about your presentation and take their critique on board. It is an opportunity to improve and learn from your peers, elevating your professionalism and at the same time, showing your passion and enthusiasm for your business and the group.

If the network has an online directory, social media pages or a newsletter/journal, find out whether there are member benefits, for example adding your profile, which presents your brand to a wider audience within the network community. For live events or awards ceremonies, enquire about endorsement options, anything that expands the reach of your business profile and puts your name in front of a wider audience.

Take advantage of any opportunities for testing out new products or services, promotional giveaways or discounts. The more ‘word of mouth’ advertising you can get, the more reach your business profile will have.

Differentiate your business or product

You know the feeling. You turn up at a networking event and there are three more businesses with a similar offering to yours. Your heart sinks and imposter syndrome raises its ugly head. Remember that every business is different. It is the person who founded it that makes it different. Your motivation, vision, backstory, journey, is individual to you. Ensure your business has a USP so that it stands out from similar products or businesses.

Partner opportunities

Remember the old adage, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’? As part of your networking strategy, give some thought to who would make a good strategic partner for your business. Maybe someone in the networking group seems really ‘on it’ with a social media campaign or marketing ideas, even if they are in a different industry? You could ask them to be your accountability partner while you test a new social media campaign or try out a new marketing technique. You will form a powerful relationship, help one another to grow and expand your business reach at the same time.

Be committed

Okay, so you have made the time to attend the networking event, whether in person or online. You have done your research and feel prepared. Your profile wowed everyone, and you engaged with the other attendees. Now, you need to follow up your new connections. Connect on LinkedIn and make sure you send a personal message to each person, either written or a voice message, which is a little less formal. Commit to a short one-to-one meeting with at least two new people, to find out more about them and their businesses. Try not to cancel these meetings for other ‘more important’ things, or it could damage your reputation within the group. Read this article for more tips about making the most of your professional network.

Engage with new people

If you want to expand or build your business profile to reach new audiences, part of your networking strategy should be to meet new people at networking events, rather than seeking out those you have met several times before. It is human nature to seek out those we know – we feel more comfortable doing that. But it is widening your circle of peers that will increase the reach of your brand.

Networking can be an extremely effective marketing tool in the long-term, as you build relationships with other professionals through mutual knowledge, need, trust and respect. Connect with like-minded people and raise your business profile by joining the Network Inspired community for free.