Networking advice for start-ups and small businesses

5 years ago

Marc Seery (Product Marketing Manager, Sage One)By Marc Seery (Sage One Product Marketing Manager).

We recently asked Gareth Molyneux (The Stitcher’s Garden), a Sage One Cashbook customer, ‘What advice would you give to someone starting out in business?’ and his response was…Network, network, network!

Gareth recognises the benefits of networking for his business but what are they and could any business benefit from them?

At Sage, I am involved in product and market research and that involves talking to lots of businesses. It’s a great part of my job as I don’t just find out about their accounts but lots of aspects of their business. Often this involves going to business networking events like ‘First Friday’ run by Newcastle Science City.

What I have noticed about networking is that if you think it’s only about selling – you are going to be very disappointed. Of course ultimately that would be great but that is just one potential reward at the end of the day. It’s also about getting and giving business advice – someone has always been there before and knows the pitfalls. As ever it’s about listening, not just going out there to talk about your business. Some people don’t get this and others soon learn to just avoid them.

The great thing is that lots of people are happy to give some of their time and advice – if you need a new supplier they will recommend one. If you have a new business area that you are thinking of getting into, ask around, someone will be or know a real expert. And don’t be shy about commenting where you have some expertise.

Most people, if they had a personal problem would talk to their friends or family – networking allows you to talk without embarrassment to a big business family.

So how do you start?

1. Walk up to the person or group and simply ask politely if you can join their conversation and introduce yourself
2. Briefly cover what you do
3. Have a business card but don’t just pass it out talk about your business and leave – get nosey and ask about their business – “Give to Get”
4. And once your confidence has grown, return the favour by helping to bring others into the conversation. Don’t just go back to the same familiar faces – your job is to keep broadening your network. The next new person you speak to might be vital in moving your business forward

What happens next?

Don’t forget to follow up – the best networkers I’ve met send an ‘Invitation to Connect’ on LinkedIn later that day. I have never refused anyone that wants to link unless they were blatantly doing a hard sell.

Don’t be shy about asking to meet again over a coffee. Networking may not lead to anything in the immediate future but over the months it’s amazing how many that you come back to. The best networkers know this and often send little updates – perhaps a link to a blog or a newsletter or an item they think you would be interested in. They also remember that you knew someone in a particular area and now they need that service. The last lead I passed someone was to a guy who had some software and I had networked with someone in his target market – skip hire.

You can’t spend all your time networking but it is important to get beyond an internal focus on your own business – you can’t think of all the best ideas.

Not everyone likes to sell and networking is a very simple way of building up contacts and with a bit of effort it will lead to a sale – not necessarily by the end of the month but over time. I was talking to a person who was in a similar business area as my brother–in-law and he has now supplied them with over £20,000 of business!

So give networking a go and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

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