Marketing Tips: Networking On A Shoestring
CURRENT ECONOMIC BELT-TIGHTENING DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN’T BRING IN NEW BUSINESS THROUGH THE ART OF NETWORKING
BY JO MACDERMOTT.
One of the challenges of starting a new business or operating a small business is the ‘on a shoestring’ budget dilemma. So how do you effectively represent your brand, gain new customers and grow your business with little or no money for marketing?
Having come from corporate marketing departments, where I had many hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to spend on marketing activities, to starting my own business and working with much less money has certainly changed my priorities on things that I once took for granted.
One of the answers to the common dilemma of getting new customers with no or little budget is to network and exploit your word of mouth referral channels as much as possible. I know that in Melbourne alone there are networking and business events on every day and night. Some are free to attend and others are paid. In general, a company who wants to sell you something usually hosts the free ones. (Which is fair and reasonable considering they are picking up the bill, but doesn’t mean you can’t make good connections).
Having been to several different types of networking events over the past year, I have formed a number of conclusions about how they work and how to get the most out of them. Here are my tips:
1. Have a clear idea of what you want to achieve
When I invest the time and some money into attending various networking events, I do so with the objective of making between two and three good connections from each function. I am still surprised by the number of people I meet who seem to have no purpose for attending. Are they there to meet new clients? To meet possible referral partners? For the sake of your own reputation and the other people attending in order to do business, think about why you are there and who your target audience is before the function starts. You will get a better return on your time and money spent attending these events by doing so.
2. Smile and be nice to everyone
Business circles in cities are small and at networking events they are even smaller. It is also not possible to tell from where or whom your future leads will come. As such, it pays to be nice to everyone at these events. If you are at a function and find yourself lost for words or are a little nervous, the best tactic is to smile and ask the other person questions about themselves. Most people are happy to talk about what they do and while they are doing this, you have an opportunity to think of some other questions or to plan your exit strategy!
3. How to join in on a conversation – politely
One of the challenges of attending networking functions on your own is the prospect of introducing yourself to people you have never met. I find this extremely difficult. One of the ways that I introduce myself to a group of people who may be in mid-conversation is to smile and say, “May I join you?” It is a polite way of interrupting the conversation and breaks the ice. Try it – it works for me.
4. The difference between SPAM and good follow up
One of the reasons business owners attend networking events is to make new business connections. This often requires a phone call or meeting follow up. There are many occasions where I meet people who I may not be able to do business with in the near future but are a contact for future reference nonetheless. One of the ways I keep in contact is through my regular e-newsletter. I do however, seek permission before I enter a new email address onto my database. The easiest and most cost-effective way I have found to do this is to send off an email in the days following the event introducing myself again and asking if we can keep in contact through my e-newsletter. So far, I haven’t had any refusals. It means that I am building up a database of people who I connect with and have asked permission to do so as well.
5. Being overexposes
I have noticed a recent trend in the networking community for the same presenters to appear at multiple functions. On the one hand, attending and even presenting at multiple functions is a good way to grow your brand exposure, but on the other hand it may also mean that you are overexposed. I have now on several occasions seen the same people present the same content at different functions. My recommendation is that if you are planning on being as exposed as possible, make sure you come up with new and interesting content as regularly as possible.
6. To become a member or not?
There are a number of networking functions that I go to which have the option of a twelve month membership. These often appear quite lucrative with bonus gifts for joining up. So far, I have not joined any particular group and have preferred the option of pay per use. My recommendation is to attend each group several times over a few months before making any commitments. These groups can take up a lot of your time so it is advisable to do your research before you join to ensure you can extract benefits from being a member, even if the free DVD player option may be an appealing birthday present for your mother-in-law!
Networking can be an effective and inexpensive way of building your brand, lifting your profile and attracting new clients. It is part of the marketing strategy for my business and has been a good source of new and potential customers. As with most things, you can have too much of a good thing so my own personal promise to myself is that I don’t become someone who is over exposed and known for spamming people that I meet.
Kept in moderation, networking can be an effective way to grow and market your business on a shoestring. Good luck networking and building your business.
FINDING THE RIGHT NETWORK
There are a lot of networking events available to business but some provide clearer promotional opportunities than others.
Networking is no doubt an important business development tool. For only a few hours of time investment, an individual can meet potential customers, suppliers, sponsors or someone who might be able to refer a potential client or dabble in some cross-promotional marketing opportunities.
Despite having the skill set in place to schmooze effectively, it is important for businesses to consider the best channel for valuable networking time and money.
VECCI Events – Project Manager, Caroline Potter, says it is important that when people choose which networking opportunities to pursue that they consider the audience they want to network with, particularly given the number of available events.
“Some who register for a networking event are happy to meet a broad range of people from a variety of industry sectors, and find that an event like the VECCI’s Women in Business and Fast Forward are good options as the guests come from various industries,” says Potter.
“However, there are others who wish to focus their networking time and budgets on events that will provide them with a high concentration of professionals from a particular sector.
“We have many people who attend an event such as our regular human resource breakfasts because they are anxious to gain contacts who specifically work within the HR industry. A targeted event like the VECCI HR Breakfast or, even the HR Conference, is a very cost-effective way to network directly with a chosen target market and gain valuable industry knowledge from guest speakers at the same time,” says Potter.
“For less than $100 and only a few hours of their time, people can generate an impressive number of quality sales leads and contacts.
“On the other hand, some people are particularly drawn to events such as the VECCI Business Leaders’ Luncheons as they may particularly want to engage with government representatives to discuss policy-related matters while building new contacts,” says Potter.
Networking events are a great way for businesses to market themselves in an enjoyable, personable and cost-effective manner. However, much like marketing, it is important for businesses to consider their target audience and the best networking event to reach that audience in order to maximise networking time and money.
Publication: Vecci Business Excellence
Issue: Vol 2, No 1 Autumn 2009