Today's guest blog post comes from Claire Williams. Claire Williams is the Conference Manager at Staffordshire Conference Bureau. They help to find venues for events, such as conferences and/or private parties.
I asked her to write about the benefits of networking at such events, since it is often a key ingredient of business that is often overlooked.
Networking: Some people love it, some people hate it.
Whether the thought of approaching a roomful of strangers leaves you excited or fills you with dread, networking can be valuable at every stage of your business development. Let me walk you through it.
The Start Up
When your business is brand new it pays to get out there and meet people. Companies rely on relationships for survival: Good relationships with customers, evangelists who’ll talk you up to everyone they know and business partners for cross promotion.
And the best way to build good working relationships is to meet real people and connect on a personal level.
At networking events you have an audience ready and willing to discuss working together. Daunting it may be, but everyone is there for the same reason – to find people to work with, promote their business locally and simply to make friends in their industry.
Even if your start up is the latest in a line of successful ventures, your existing contacts will not know what’s great about your new company. More importantly, if your business is taking you in a new direction professionally, your contacts may not be in the best position to help you out.
The Established Business
You’ve been in business for a few years now, lots of people know your name and your company is doing well.
So why do you need to network?
It all comes back to the r word – relationships. People do business with people, and it’s not a good idea to get complacent. Keep attending networking events simply to stay in the loop and so your peers and colleagues don’t forget your face.
You may also meet newcomers who you can work with – or simply reconnect with someone whose latest venture presents a great opportunity for you.
The Long-Standing Success
You’ve been trading for years, maybe even decades, and doing a brilliant job. You’ve got a healthy bank balance and a loyal customer base; does networking really have anything to offer you?
Back when you were a start up you probably relied on events to gain contacts and new leads. Getting out there and networking may be a great way to connect with younger professionals who may be able to bring new ideas to your business.
Perhaps for years you were a strictly bricks and mortar business, but now the Internet is changing the playing field around you and it’s vital to find the people who speak this language.
Maybe you have been motivated to get online, but now you need to make connections with the owners of influential industry websites.
Industry doesn’t stand still, and the way people do business is changing. But at the heart of the new wave of social networking and digital technology is still that same guiding principle – people build working relationships with other people.
While you can, and possibly should, be using new technologies to improve your working life, making that initial connection offline – or meeting an online contact in the flesh – can help to cement relationships and persuade people that they want to do business with you.
Can your business afford to miss out on that opportunity?
Networking – The Personal Touch
So you can see, at any stage in your working life taking the time to meet people can help your business. The key is always to remember that networking events are a way to build relationships and make a personal connection.
Don’t expect massive orders from the contacts you make, instead see it as a long term investment of your time. That business owner may need your products in the future; the manager may want your skills and services down the line; anyone in the room may recommend you to a colleague.
Get involved in networking events, but see them for what they are. They are a way of getting to know professionals in your area, and not a trade show for selling your wares. Remember that and your business should benefit from networking.
Claire Williams is the Conference Manager at Staffordshire Conference Bureau – a venue finding service in the UK for corporate occasions such as networking events and conferences.