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9 min read

30 Game Changing Tips For Business Networking

Whilst we don’t subscribe wholly to the view ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’, having a network of useful business contacts is hugely important. Whether you’re a sole-trader or have your own workforce, the business world extends beyond what goes on within the walls of your office. The good news is technology has made that world a much smaller place. 

Having useful business contacts isn’t all about generating new clients – it’s about strategically building your network to utilise expertise, influence, and services to good effect. There are many different types of business contacts – suppliers, wholesalers, creatives, lenders, investors, advisors, mentors, competitors, developers, software providers, hardware providers, manufacturers – to name a few!

So… where do you start?! As you can imagine, there’s no one-size-fits all approach. You’re going to find different people in different places – both in person and online. The best place to start is by defining your goals from these potential contacts.

  • Are you looking for the best product from a supplier, for the best price?
  • Or are you looking to establish a longer term partnership with a supplier?
  • Are you looking for business advice from someone who’s been there, learnt the lessons and got the t-shirt?
  • Need to gauge the best local marketing agencies that could assist your business now, or down the line?
  • Do you need a fresh new creative steer?
  • More funding for your business?
  • Better software to speed up internal processes?
  • Looking for reliable office equipment?

Once your goals are clear, have a think about the type of contacts that can help you with these business areas, and where you might find them. 

 

Let’s start with your existing network…

1. Who do you already know? Before you go looking for contacts, go back through your existing network. Has your cousin recently trained as a coder? Has an old university friend started working at a software company that could benefit your business? Has an ex-colleague set up as a freelance marketing consultant? Don’t assume that your contacts stay in the same job.

2. Do your existing contacts know anyone that could be useful to you? If you have a specific requirement, ask your existing contacts if they know anyone that specialises in this area. To save time, could you post on your personal social channels, asking if any friends know someone who works in XXX, or can do XXX, etc. LinkedIn even offers a 2nd and 3rd degree connections filter when searching on the platform, helping you establish who your contacts might know, and who they could potentially introduce you to.

3. Are you part of any local community groups that you can reach out to? For example, are you part of a school WhatsApp group, where you could suggest a business shout-out to better know the businesses behind the parents? The same approach to sports clubs! Are there local groups in your area that support the community, which you could join and network in? This is a great way to build your local business network – especially when you can easily follow up opportunities to meet new contacts in person. You could even go as far as setting up a local business networking group, if there isn’t one.

 

Next up: LinkedIn

As the world’s largest professional network on the internet, it’s important to dedicate a large part of this list to LinkedIn features and opportunities. 

4. Get your LinkedIn profile in order. Begin by sharpening up your LinkedIn profile. You represent your business – the more networking you do, the more people will be viewing your profile for more information. Create a clear and concise profile that’s in line with your networking goals.

5. Actively expand your LinkedIn network. This will determine how easily you can find people and how easily they can find you. LinkedIn organises your existing and suggested potential connections using a tier system:

  • 1st degree connections – People you’re directly connected to
  • 2nd degree connections – Those people connected to your connections
  • 3rd degree connections – Those connected to your 2nd degree connections
  • Followers  – People who choose to follow your public updates in their LinkedIn feed (subject to your settings)
  • Fellow members of your LinkedIn Groups People who are considered part of your network because you’re members of the same group. The Highlights section of a member profile may display the groups you’re both a part of. You can contact them by sending a message on LinkedIn or directly through the group.
  • LinkedIn Member (Out of Network) LinkedIn members who fall outside the categories listed above. Some fields of profiles out of your network have limited visibility as described in LinkedIn’s help section, but you can build your network with other valuable connections to see more profiles. If the option is available, you can also send them an InMail to introduce yourself.

The results that appear from a LinkedIn search will depend on your network. Therefore, the greater your network is, the greater and more accurate the results will be. 

6. Utilise the “People You May Know” feature on LinkedIn. Rather than start from scratch researching contacts who might share common interests, industries, etc, this feature on your My Network page suggests LinkedIn members for you to connect with. These recommendations are based on commonalities between you and other LinkedIn members, as well as contacts you’ve imported from your email and mobile address books. For example, you may have shared connections, have similar profile information and experiences, work at the same company or industry, or may have attended the same school.

7. Personalise your LinkedIn requests. Don’t be afraid to reach out, but in the right way. Position your request to connect in a way that makes sense to who you’re approaching. Include a note in your request to connect, giving context around why you’d like to connect e.g. what or who you have in common, what you like about their posts, that you’re researching something for your business which you think they could help with, and so on.

8. For continuous growth, join LinkedIn groups. If someone shares the same group as you, they can be contacted directly via the group (even if they’re not a connection). LinkedIn groups are a great way to strengthen connections with like-minded people that share common goals, interests, skills, experiences and industry affiliations.

9. Ensure quality LinkedIn connections. Expand your network with the right people – not spammers! If you receive an invitation from an unwanted networker, click the ‘ignore’ tab. Quality as well as quantity is a winning formula, making your experience of LinkedIn more productive overall.

10. Be active on LinkedIn to raise your profile. Being actively involved in conversations goes a long way. If you spot a conversation that you have expertise in, get involved! Remain professional at all times – you never know who might check your profile out as a result. You could even write some thought leadership pieces via LinkedIn’s publishing platform – LinkedIn Pulse. Generate conversations and encourage sharing of your content to reach a wider audience.

11. Make sure to build a diverse network. You no doubt have a number of different business goals. The more diverse your connections are, the better. By connecting with people from different industries, age groups, backgrounds, etc, you’re widening the opportunity for a broader set of insights and opportunities.

 

OK, that’s enough LinkedIn tips for now… let’s look further afield:

12. Meet the right people, in-person, in the right places. Once your goals have been defined, start researching where these sort of connections might be found e.g. professional conferences? Expos? Local networking events? While at these events, make the first move and introduce yourself to people – start connecting and getting your business cards circulating.

13. Focus on reaching out to people with large, relevant networks. If you’re short on networking time, look to reach out to people in your industry who are already well connected. Striking up a good relationship with them is an efficient way to be introduced to their wider network.

14. Be helpful. Help people within your network by sharing your expertise, information, promote your network’s accomplishments, connect people! It will improve the strength of your network and encourage others to join, helping expand your list of contacts.

15. Build your reputation. We touched on this earlier with LinkedIn but this point goes beyond one channel. Build your reputation by being valuable and helpful – whether this is speaking at events, blogging, email marketing, social media, etc. By positioning yourself as someone who is knowledgeable and valuable, people will be more motivated to reach out and connect with you.

16. Be visible. If you don’t talk about what you’re doing, it’s like it never happened. Subject to your industry / goals, you might want to consider taking advantage of your every day social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to maintain visibility within your networks / industry. As well as social media, consider additional communication channels such as your website and email marketing. And of course, video calls and in-person meetings are always a winner when it comes to visibly strengthening relationships.

17. Complementary collaborations. Are there any non-competitive businesses, events, groups, etc, that share a similar target audience and are looking to expand their network also? Could you join forces on a product or project? Or run a joint competition where, as part of entering, people have to follow both your social media accounts? Could you ‘take over’ each other’s social media accounts for a day? Or simply display each other’s business cards at your location? Make sure to work with businesses you have shared values with, as well as audiences.

18. Sponsor local events. A great way to build your network by getting your name out there.

19. Get chatting. You’ll be surprised how much comradeship circulates amongst local business owners and communities. For example, if you have a stall at a local market, why not ask other stall holders whether they attend other markets? Is there an online group for market stallholders that you can join? You might even discover a new collaboration opportunity this way!

20. Ask. It’s a classic, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get! Ask for introductions. Ask if someone would like to go for a coffee. Ask to be added to a group. Ask for an invitation. Ask for advice. Put yourself out there – more times than not you should get the answer you’re looking for.

21. Consider your potential referral connections. Sometimes your next great business contact is just a referral away. A new acquaintance might not be able to directly help you achieve your goals, but do they know someone who can? Or do you have happy customers who would happily write a review of your business and recommend you to a friend?

22. Join small business associations and networking groups. Lots of opportunities to connect with like-minded small business owners.

23. Join professional associations and attend their events. These associations exist to advance a particular profession, support the interests of people working in that profession and serve the public good, such as:

These associations facilitate innovation, communication and connection. While there are different types (a great summary can be found here), member-benefit professional organisations are worth looking at as they focus primarily on benefiting their individual members through access to physical resources, like journals and conferences. They also offer resources such as networking and peer support.

24. Check out Meetup – a service used to organise online groups that host in-person and virtual events for people with similar interests. With thousands of events held every day, it’s a great opportunity to search for events in line with your goals, where you can meet people, make new friends, find support, grow your business and explore your interests. Meetup also offers Small Business Networking Meetup groups such as Entrepreneurs in London, Chiswick Business Network, London Female Entrepreneurs, Manchester Filmmakers and Creatives, and more!

25. Create your own group! Start a nonprofit organisation or an informal group with a LinkedIn and/or Facebook page to generate buzz and encourage members to join.

26. Take advantage of free software trials. The right software can have a huge impact on your business – from increasing efficiency to improving customer service. Many software companies offer free trials over a certain time period. Once you know the pain points you’re looking to solve, set time aside each month to trial new software and make connections with the people behind the companies. When the time comes to select your next technology partner, you’ll be well informed and have some business contacts in place to hit the ground running.

27. One of the easiest ways to build your supplier network is to attend trade shows and events. This not only gives you the opportunity to see and touch products firsthand to assess their quality, but allows you to meet potential suppliers in person. Knowing who you’re dealing with from the get-go is a great way to kick-start a beneficial working relationship.

28. Discover new suppliers to reach out to via trade publications. Take a look through industry magazines (print and online) to understand what products are selling, and who’s selling them. Suppliers tend to advertise in these publications – take a note of those that are relevant to your business and investigate them further. A phone call is a great way to get to know a supplier if you’re not meeting them in person at a trade event.

29. Use online directories. An efficient way to view a lot of potential new contacts in one place. For example, online vendor directories such as Alibaba, enable you to easily find suppliers. But to ensure they’re a useful business contact to have, you must make sure to do your due diligence when vetting them. For example, Alibaba offers certification filters to find a manufacturer that meets quality, safety and efficiency standards.

30. It’s worth remembering that connections open doors but relationships close deals. If you don’t nurture relationships, your large network of business contacts aren’t going to help you meet your business goals.

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Jenny Lambert

Jenny Lambert is a freelance writer, interiors blogger and Etsy shop owner with extensive experience working in marketing, digital and publishing roles.

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