Networking is something which all good businesses do because they understand that it can provide a strategic, cost-effective route to market. In today’s hyper-connected business world, it’s as much a case of what you know as who you know – despite a plethora of technology, people still buy people. Being in the right place at the right time with the right person can open a multitude of otherwise apparently closed doors.
There is, however, a darker side to networking. If not proactively managed this can be more detrimental to your business than not networking at all. Attending events which do little for you or your business can equate to a complete and utter waste of time. Time which could be better spent feeding your bottom line.
So, how do you ensure that your investment in networking continues to deliver a boost to your business, as opposed to becoming a drain?
As with many aspects of business – failing to plan is tantamount to planning to fail. By simply investing some time in preparing for networking, you can ensure that the events you do attend bring real value to your business. The choice is yours as to how you approach this. As my experience is based on being the Virtual Assistant (VA) who does the legwork, here are some of the ways in which I have seen my clients get the most out of their networking.
1. Identify the right event for YOU: The networking scene is positively buzzing with events and keeping track of what’s on, where and when can be a task in itself. Consider asking your VA to research and prepare a rolling list of up-coming events on particular themes. You can then consult this summary list on a regular basis and decide which ones you wish to attend. This also helps you to ensure that you attend a healthy ‘spread’ of events – local, national, sector-specific and general. If one particular event proves particularly useful or interesting, set a calendar reminder or sign up to their mailing list so you are aware of future dates. If a diary-crunch means you miss an event, ask your VA to contact the organiser and request a copy of any slides and e-docs to be sent through to you.
2. Get up to speed with who’s who: It is quite common now for organisers to circulate the planned delegate list a few days prior to a networking event. With some well-timed advance research your VA can provide you with the low-down on who is attending. In this way, you can plan who you want to speak with in particular, and ensure that the conversations you have are relevant to you and your business. Being able to demonstrate an insight or understanding of someone else’s business is a great way to introduce yourself and make a lasting impression.
3. Follow-up after events: It is standard practice to exchange business cards at networking events and it is important to make the best use of the information these contain. When you receive a business card, suggest that you connect on social media and ask permission to register them in your database for your newsletter or blog. The data entry can be done by your VA. A nice touch will be to send out some company information, preferably in the form of a personal email. All this can be prepared in advance by your VA so all you have to do following the event is decide who to send it to. In your rolling list of networking events, ask your VA to keep a note of any important contacts against the event you met them at. If you return to such an event in the future, you have the perfect excuse to get in touch again – and they will be impressed by both your memory and your attention to detail!
4. Know what’s hot: New networking events are constantly being established and sometimes it’s good to freshen up your list. Task your VA with researching specific areas which are of interest to you and finding out what other events are out there. Social media is one way of doing this as many real-time groups have online forums, too. Browsing business directory websites can also prove fruitful. Finally, if you’re away on business and know you will have some inevitable ‘dead time’, why not get your VA to look into and give you some details of networking events happening in that area? You never know….
With spring in the air, what better time to dust off those winter cobwebs and get out networking again?
Desiree Ashton is a Virtual Assistant, offering discreet, ad hoc, professional support to consultants, directors and small businesses.