Business Networking Steps to Success

Starting off in business networking can be quite a daunting experience, it certainly was that for me as I commenced my journey via those early morning, local business networking breakfasts. Across the country from small groups to large gatherings, beginners to more advanced, general to industry specific we see business networking events taking place.

For this article I wish to share with you my experiences of business networking over the past 12 years, both the successes and the failures, the technique I adopted and those which I quickly ditched!

Business networking is simply a group of business people brought together so to facilitate communications. These can be face to face or even via the internet (Zoom meetings have made this much easier), social events such as drinks / meals or straight forward standing together in a room swapping cards or even speed business networking.

My first and probably one of the most important tips is to learn quickly what level of business networking you should start off at. If you translate the journey of business networking to a ladder with many steps, you have the lower steps which are the start off levels and the final steps the more senior / high level. By learning what level you need to commence your experience at you will save yourself plenty of time and lessen the amount of mistakes you are likely to make to include time / money you waste.

Step 1: General local business networking such as paid for concepts to include BNI. These are usually a small gathering of regular faces in the local business community that meet at a set time weekly or monthly and usually are power breakfasts or evening drinks meetings. The format of these are repetitive and are very much focused on helping you to build confidence in yourself representing your business / brand. As attendees are likely to be the same faces each time you meet, it is mostly about reaching the networks they each hold. You will likely be given the chance to request of others the people you are looking to make contact with and these should be local individuals, ie “I am looking to speak to someone who does the marketing at the local sports centre” or “does anyone know of a printers locally who does cheap flyers” etc.

My first ever business networking was in Sudbury, Suffolk and these were quite invaluable in the education they gave me bolstering my confidence and quickly increasing my business connections. I found my first investor at this weekly breakfast meeting as well as a business partner.

Step 2: Still local though here you will either be creating your own business networking group, taking part in specific industry local groups or looking to join organisations where business networking takes place such as Round Table / Rotary Club. Let us not forget here the likes of joining the local golf club, Conservative / Labour club and other social groups which can lead to business networking opportunities. At this point you should have a decent manner about yourself on how to present and introduce yourself as well as having the confidence to hold conversations with other attendees.

Sometimes these events and groups you attend will not be the greatest so make sure you explore them all before committing yourself to any annual fees / memberships. Also, within this step you should be exploring the likes of Facebook / Eventbrite and other events websites to explore specific meetings taking place monthly which usually you will be surprised that there are many for any fairly decent sized town / city.

I created a local business networking concept which ran quite nicely over several months and expanded out to three or four other local areas. This was a great learning curve and got me many new business connections and certainly a respected name within local business networking. One of my major investors I found by adopting this business networking process. The concept did not last that long and I retired it though having obtained what I needed from it at the time and having gained invaluable business networking experiences.

Step 3: Depending on the money you wish to commit to business networking you can confidently venture in to private member clubs and these are likely to contain successful business connections for you. Social business networking should also be considered and here I would consider you researching events and the likes of launch parties within the sector you are in. If you put aside some time to research then you will start to uncover many exclusive events taking place of which some will be private and invite only (this never stopped me) or ticketed.

At this level there are so many business networking opportunities that you can have your diary fully booked and especially if you are in London or one of the other major cities across the country. For example I have attended book launches, private auctions, Saville Row tailoring tour, Champagne parties on the Thames, TV awards, BBC Dragons Den pitching and much more without ever paying an entry fee. You must be very aware of and remain respectful in your business journey to the organisers of these events – I am certainly not prompting anyone to attend simply to take and not give back. By this I mean target these events to your industry and at least capture content and share with your network (tag in organisers / exhibitors) – You will soon pick up a bad name if you attend without invite and are simply on the take. In the wine industry these people are called wine liggers!

I discovered the social events surrounding the arts industry in London and this opened up a large amount of new connections for me. My thought process was that if some of these, in a polite way, mind boggling art pieces could attract such high values then those attending and looking to purchase were likely to be successful in some way or another! Each evening many art events take place with countless galleries open to attendees to study the artwork within the latest exhibition. I met investors and celebrities at these events including some key individuals within niche business sectors I was targeting. If ever an event was stated as ‘private’ or ‘invite only’ you should not be put off, I simply asked the organiser directly if I could attend stating I was a keen fan / supporter / researcher etc and if needed I would offer to grab photos / interviews at the event and publish them to my online audiences.

Step 4:  Where the real action takes place. Here you must have a very strong business story behind you and be able to conduct yourself at a very high level. You appearance will need to be spot on and something upon you will be your identity from your tailored clothing to your timepiece or maybe you adorn a pin badge of a prestigious organisation or you’ve a club blazer.

Mostly, the networking at this level is private and not accessible (even with Step 3’s endeavours) to those outside the network. Once you have been around the networking scene working your way up the ladder you will not only meet business connections, but you will meet future friends. Once these friends are in high places and you’ve established your unique identity with them and made it within their trusted network, then more doors will open for you.

Step 4 is only really accessible to those who are highly successful in business, in their social life, in their family life or they have worked hard at progressing their business networking skills. Be prepared for the finer things in life to take a theme at such events to include wining and dining, luxury accommodation, sporting events and more. If you have been clever with your business networking and built yourself up to being a likeable gent / lady then others will want you around them not only for your personality, but also your business profile as many that continue to network at the higher levels are always on the look out for new talent.

I spent a lot of time and took onboard a great deal of learning when it came to what to wear and when. I like to stand out as I felt by doing so I was reflecting well to others my personality. Look around you at general business networking meetings, especially the gents, the average look is a relatively ill fitting (not tailored) suit and tie with Clarkes shoes no? By just removing yourself from the normal you open up to be ‘different & worth speaking to’ and ‘eye catching’ from simply wearing say mustard coloured chinos and a light blue blazer to a fancy bowtie or cravat – For the ladies, in my opinion, come away from business suits and adopt a theme. Once you have networked long and hard you get to spot the characters worth speaking to at networking events and nowadays I am rarely wrong with who I speak to first and spend my time with.

An important factor to consider when you are looking to target certain individuals at business networking. Those Steps we have covered above will likely apply to the people you are looking to target. If you are after small local businesses then you should frequent Steps 1 & 2 as these events will most certainly contain these individuals whereas if you are looking for senior directors / CEO’s / CMO’s then you look at Steps 3 & 4. You are not going to get a multi-million pound investor at a local business breakfast meeting as much as you networking at a Champagne dinner with key senior players in a sector you are looking to get in to is likely to expose your naivety and you’ll sure be questioned as to what you are doing these (or more likely, who invited you and accepted your request to attend)!



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