Networking works – if you work it!

If you own or manage a company, chances are you’ve been invited to at least one networking event.

They come in all shapes and sizes: big and small; morning, lunch or evening; weekly, fortnightly or one-off events; paid membership or free to attend… you get the picture! The burning question is, however, do any of them work?

The short answer is yes – but I do need to qualify that by saying yes, if you understand what networking is all about and do it the right way! You can’t expect to turn up at a networking event for the first time and leave with 20 new customers. There’s a networking etiquette that you need to understand and appreciate before you swagger in with a handful of business cards.

So, let’s start with the basics.

What is networking?

I quite like the description of networking on Wikipedia: “Networking is a socioeconomic business activity by which businesspeople and entrepreneurs meet to form business relationships and to recognise, create, or act upon business opportunities, share information and seek potential partners for ventures.”

Notice, nowhere does it say businesspeople go to sell their products or services! In my own words, networking is a marketing activity, the aim of which is to grow your contacts, meet people you may have a business affinity with and find potential referral partners.

What is a referral partner?

A referral partner is someone you could form a mutually beneficial business relationship with – someone you could pass contacts or work to and who can reciprocate, in turn passing useful contacts and opportunities to you.  In the wedding industry, for example, bridalwear shops, cake-makers, venues, photographers, florists and hair and beauty salons could all be great referral partners for each other.  Working together, a group of referral partners can become a power team that continually generate business for each other.

A great referral partner will generally:

  • Work alongside or within the same industry as you
  • Have a similar client base
  • Be a well established and trusted supplier with a proven reputation
  • Be someone you like or feel you can get on well with!

That last point may not sound particularly politically correct but, for any business partnership to work, it has to be based on mutual respect and trust and you need to feel a willingness to work together.

How do I go about finding referral partners?

Attending networking events and business exhibitions is a great first step to finding potential referral partners, but you have to go with the right attitude.  Turn up with the intention of finding out as much as you can about the other businesses attending.  Ask questions first, before mentioning what it is you do.  Here are some great questions, after ‘What do you do?’ that will help you glean the information you need to determine whether or not they will be a good ‘match’ for you and a potential referral partner:

  • Who do you work with already?
  • Who is your ideal customer?
  • Are you looking to connect with anyone specific today?
  • How can I help you?

People generally like to talk about themselves, so it shouldn’t be hard to get a conversation started.  If you think there is a genuine affinity, ask to book a one-to-one meeting at a later date where you can talk at greater length.

Which networking events are best?

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, there are a huge variety of networking events out there.  Which one is best will differ for everyone.  Not all networking events will necessarily suit you and your business, so I always suggest you attend a few to:

  • Discover what other businesses attend
  • Decide if you like the meeting structure – some are very formal and some informal, for example
  • Work out if you can commit to the group – some have certain expectations of their members, like bringing visitors to the group or passing a certain amount of referrals to other members
  • Determine whether you feel it is worth the investment, both in terms of your time and any membership or meeting fees

If you are going to commit to attending one networking group regularly, make it one that you’re comfortable with, and that you feel you can benefit from.  Set yourself a time limit – say six months. If you haven’t found any opportunities with other members in this time, move on!

Do I have to attend meetings to network?

To meet new people and find fresh opportunities, attending events and meetings is the best way. Before you do that, however, just take a look through your existing database of contacts. Think about the qualities I set out above that make a great referral partner. You may have contacts that fit the bill already, but have never thought to explore the potential for passing referrals to one another. Find five influential people in your business circle – ask them how you can help each other.

The best advice I can offer is to give networking a go with the above in mind. You’re not looking for hundreds of people, just a select few that can become key referral partners. Offer to help others and you will usually find they are willing to help you in return.

If you would like to join me as a visitor at a networking group in Wolverhampton, I attend a weekly meeting at The Goldthorn Hotel on a Thursday morning.  There is no obligation to join.  For more information, please give me a call on 01384 355 444.

Controlling the networking nerves!

There’s not many people who are ‘natural networkers’, who feel totally comfortable mingling in a room full of strangers.
It’s something I’ve had to work at as a businessman, which is why the horrified look I get from clients when I suggest they start networking doesn’t surprise me. The worry of feeling like an outsider in a group, combined with the terrifying possibility of having to stand up and say something, stop a lot of people embracing this element of marketing.

Public speaking remains one of the top fears amongst the business community. In fact, a poll in 2013 placed public speaking above death in a list of people’s greatest fears – which explains why many find the thought of networking nerve-wracking. The study even prompted the publication of a book ‘…and Death Came Third!: The Definitive Guide to Networking and Speaking in Public’ by Andy Lopata and Peter Roper. It’s worth a read if you want some lengthier advice on how to fight the fear.

I’ve heard some coaches tell their clients ‘practise makes perfect’ and advise them to just get out there and do it. I’ve also heard coaches come out with the old adage ‘do something every day that scares you, or pushes your boundaries’, but neither of these nuggets of advice really help dispel those nerves! What has proved helpful with some of my clients, however, is giving them a few facts to remember when they’re faced with entering and addressing a room full of business peers.  So, I thought I’d share them with you.

Here are my top five fear-busting facts to take with you next time you go networking:

1 – Everyone else in the room is there to do the same as you – they want to talk to you and they want to hear what you have to say.  And the majority probably have the same fears as you, some simply hide it better than others!

2 – Networking is simply about conversing with people. Whether you’re asked to tell one person or 20 about your business, think of it as nothing more than a conversation. Answer the question as if you were in a one-to-one situation – it’s exactly the same.

3 – No-one is waiting to throw rotten tomatoes at you – they want you to succeed.

4 – You don’t have to be an outgoing person to network, people will come to you. New faces at networking events are generally welcomed with open arms, it’s very rare you’ll be left a wilting wallflower.  Embrace the interest and chat to people.  They’ll usually do their best to help you feel at ease.

5 – Remember why you’re there. This is a business meeting, and it will make a difference to your business by being there. Focus on the goal, you want to meet like-minded professional people who you may be able to work with in the future. Put on your best professional persona – it helps keep the personal feelings under control.

It is true that your confidence will grow with experience, so although it may feel very strange and a little scary at first, it will get better. If you feel more comfortable taking a friend or colleague the first time, then do that.  It never hurts to have a friendly face in the crowd and a fallback to talk to.

Just don’t let the fear stand in your way!

Teaming up with the Black Country Chamber to help businesses grow

I’m thrilled to announce I’ve been invited to run a series of mentoring workshops for the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, offering expert support and advice on growing your business and becoming more profitable.

Black Country Chamber Events

Have you ever heard the saying, ‘to achieve something different – you have to do something different’?

As a busy company director or manager, it can be easy to get tied up in the day-to-day operations of your business – working all hours to keep afloat and wondering why you’re still struggling with cash flow.  Does this sound familiar?

Unless you sit back and evaluate how the company is performing, and make changes to improve, however, you will never develop and grow.

Can you give just two hours per month to make your business more profitable?

Sometimes, it only takes small changes to create big differences in your fortunes.  This is what I demonstrate day-in, day-out with my clients.

It doesn’t matter how big or small your business is currently, or what industry you work in, the challenges we face in business are very much the same.

These workshops are designed to help you re-focus on the bigger picture, ensuring business essentials are not only in place, but are working effectively for you – leading to better profits and a smoother-running operation.

The three mentoring workshops will develop your skills constructively, helping you plan more strategically and offering practical take-away tips that you can implement straight away.

Here’s a breakdown of the workshop dates and content:

Mentoring Workshop One
Monday 3rd October
A Marketing Strategy

Create a marketing plan, understand which prospects to target and how to generate the right leads, and decide on the action you need to take to promote yourself effectively.

Mentoring Workshop Two
Thursday 3rd November
The Sales Strategy

Discover the best way to make contact with prospects, set appointments, and ultimately close the deal.

Mentoring Workshop Three
Tuesday 6th December
The Customer Retention Strategy

Once you have a customer base, it’s important to nurture it! Learn what activities and actions can reduce customer defections and grow customer and brand loyalty.

Each workshop runs from 9:30am to 11:30am at the Black Country Chamber Of Commerce, Creative Industries Centre, Wolverhampton Science Park, Wolverhampton, WV10 9TG.

Sessions are just £10 each for Black Country Chamber members, or £20 each for non-members (a total of £30 or £60 for all three)*  I hope you’ll agree that’s fantastic value!

*Prices are subject to VAT

Book your place today

To book online visit the BCC website at or telephone 01902 912305 or email

Please note that cancellations are required in writing 7 days prior to the event, at which point an official cancellation number will be issued. Unfortunately cancellations within this time cannot be accommodated by a full refund.  PLEASE NOTE WE CANNOT ACCEPT BOOKING WITHOUT PRIOR PAYMENT.