Business Networking Events In Staffordshire
If you’re anything like me; the words ‘networking event’ suddenly make you wish you’d taken up a career selling cocktails at a beach bar somewhere in the pacific.
Well, that thought crossed my mind at a previous business networking event in staffordshire as I stood cradling my coffee and nodding my head in an attempt to look interested in a conversation about strategic infrastructure frameworks.
But despite the awkwardness of having to strike up conversations with strangers and forcing on a smile akin to the Joker from Batman; networking is still popular. And the reason?
Business networking Events work
Not only is it either free or very affordable, it’s an effective way to get your business known around the area, make some influential contacts and generate very successful leads.
But although we aren’t all lining up with excitement to attend networking events, we can shift that feeling of dread rising in our stomachs and replace it with some good old fashioned ambitious energy.
So as a local Staffordshire based business, we’ve put together some helpful tips of where to go for great networking, and how to prepare so that you can generate some real returns for your business.
Preparing to Network like a BOSS
1.Set your goal
So the first thing you need to do is set yourself a goal, a secret mission that you are determined to achieve (cue the mission impossible theme tune).
Why not start simple with these 3 suggestions:
- Obtain at least 1 business card of a contact that could be useful for you in the future
- Give your business card to at least 2 people that you’d like to work with
- Make sure you’ve had at least 3 conversations with people you didn’t know
This way you can walk into that room with a purpose rather than ambling round wondering if anyone will notice if you do a quick lap and head for the nearest exit. When you’ve reached your goals you can leave confidently knowing you’ve achieved what you came to do.
2.Sort your network survival kit
Turning up empty handed to a networking event is about as useful as going swimming without your swim gear.
As a minimum you’re going to need a ready stocked pile of updated business cards to hand out, your phone or tablet which is useful for taking notes, adding dates, showcasing work or tweeting the fun you’re having #NetworkEventName. But you can take a notepad, pen or diary if you’re feeling retro.
It’s also useful to take some form of payment, perhaps offering to purchase coffee if there’s the opportunity or donating to charity if collections are present.
If you’re able, take along a small amount of marketing material that you may have such as leaflets, postcards and pens; but don’t stand around dishing them out like free subway vouchers, only give them to people you want to connect with and make them feel valued.
3.Identify some conversation starters… and stoppers!
One of the biggest anxieties when it comes to networking is talking to strangers. But it’s amazing how quickly that worry disappears when you can fill any silence with something worthwhile.
Make honest introductions
Probably the weirdest thing you’ll ever do is go up to a stranger and start talking. But take my word for it; they’re probably more relieved that someone is talking with them than having to stand alone awkwardly.
So keep it simple and make it honest.
Introduce yourself, ask to join them – and then if you’re there for the first time and have no idea what you’re doing, tell them. You’ll either gain a fellow comrade or some helpful tips from an experienced networker.
Remember your conversation starters
The best way to generate a good conversation is keep the other person talking about themselves (and many people are happy to oblige). So keep your questions open-ended… ones that can’t be answered with a yes or no.
Here are 4 easy questions to remember when you’re networking;
- So what’s involved in your line of work?
- How are things in your industry at the moment?
- How do you find these networking events?
- Can you recommend any people that I should talk to here?
But don’t get stuck with the chatterbox
Sometimes ending a conversation can be just as challenging as starting one; especially if you’ve strayed into personal opinions and future holiday plans.
So keep your exit polite and thank them for taking the time to chat to you and assure them you’ll be in touch. I find it helps to say “well I best get back to networking” in a way that implies ‘I’d rather still be chatting, but duty calls.’ This is a nifty way of leaving without ruining that business connection you’ve worked so hard to establish.
4.Brush up on your Local Knowledge
When attending any local networking group, the chances are that the delegates are also locals. This is great if you’re also a local business as you can contribute to extending that particular network.
So it doesn’t hurt to brush up on local topics that prove just how keen you are in supporting the local business community:
Local Staffordshire News
If you’re not already on Twitter, get on there. This is a good way to keep up-to-date with recent developments.
You never know when supplying helpful information will win you more respect and ultimately more business.
And don’t forget local news by visiting a reputable news site.
Just by quickly viewing the BBC Staffordshire news web page we noticed there was a recent power cut. It may only be a small bit of information, but it could be a great conversation topic for businesses that may have been affected.
Raising local issues often shows to people that A) you know your area and B) you’re actually interested in their success – and that can only benefit your business relationships.
Yes I said it. The term dress for success didn’t just come about by chance you know.
A scientific study showed that what we wear affects us through something called ‘enclothed cognition’. So if you look your best and you know others will perceive that outfit as belonging to a business professional; then you’ll actually FEEL confident. Clever huh?
Working Your Networking Mojo
So the day has arrived and you’ve made the necessary preparations, now all that’s left is make this work for you.
1. Appropriate Schmoozing
Do you really need a paragraph to remind you to smile, shake hands firmly, speak up and not stare at your phone mid-conversation – I didn’t think so. Let’s move on…
2. Listen and Share, Share and Listen
Once you’ve implemented your cleverly masterminded conversational starters, now is NOT the time to start daydreaming (despite the opening chapter to this blog).
Now is the time to listen carefully to know if this is a service you can benefit from, and if they can benefit from you. It helps not to focus too much on what that person can do for you, but rather what you can do for them.
Share any useful information and point out expertise that you have that could benefit them or fill any skill gaps they’re facing.
And last but not least; don’t forget to talk about your business and what makes it different. After all, you need to check if they’re just as interested in your service as you are in theirs. So pick one or two points about your services that you love the most and mention them briefly; taking note of the reaction.
3. Don’t Expect Miracles
When interacting at networking events, remember you’re not there to secure definite work, contracts or sales. You’re also not there to respond to every question like you’re in an interview.
You’re actually there just to make friends, make connections and find out more about other people.
There will be some people that you just won’t mesh with, and there will be people that won’t be keen on you. So don’t spend time trying to convince these people that you’re amazing, move on. You deserve better.
Aim to discover those you click with, people that have similar goals and opinions, because at the end of the day, companies don’t make decisions, people do. And people that like you will involve you in future activities.
4. Follow-up on your Leads
Don’t waste all that hard work by letting too much time pass after speaking to your new connections. Once you’ve left the event, make a point to follow them on LinkedIn or Twitter. Dropping through the odd email or sharing useful information (occasionally, let’s not overdo it) will help keep your business continually in their minds and will encourage them to reciprocate, building good working relationships.
Where to Get Your Network-On
Choosing the right networking groups is just as important as attending them, so to help you out we’ve found a few of Staffordshire’s finest networking opportunities, both offline and online.
Staffordshire Twitter Networking Meets
Twitter meets are a great way to build brand awareness. Each networking group meets on a particular day and time (listed in their profile) for one hour.
The rules are simple, promote your business by writing a tweet using the listed hashtag and then retweet others doing the same.
This is a great opportunity to get to know new contacts and get your business viewed by thousands of potential customers.
Here are some Twitter networking accounts to follow for Staffordshire businesses:
2. Noteworthy Networking Events
There are many Staffordshire networking meetings worth considering, however some only allow one business per profession, so if you’re in a popular industry you may struggle to be allowed a seat.
In that case, it may be worth visiting some of the less regular networking events and exhibitions such as:
Think Local for Business
Let’s Do Business Staffordshire
and local events promoted via Chamber of Commerce
The Business Growth Show
5.Embrace all Types of Networking
Networking comes in all shapes and sizes but the end benefits for your business are the same; so don’t miss out by chickening out.
Apart from the standard open roving spaces of networking events, there are also speed-networking meetings where you meet each person at the meeting face-to-face for a short interval.
Sit-down meetings may also be part of an event or arranged through various contacts. Ok, so a quick escape may not be so easy during these meetings, but thankfully they’re brief and perhaps even more useful as they already tend to draw like-minded people with similar goals.
Don’t forget to keep your eyes open for more networking opportunities online and especially on LinkedIn where you may gain invites to exclusive networking opportunities.
So Staffordshire Networking doesn’t have to be daunting after all. With a little prep work and willingness to make connections both online and at meetings, you’ll soon be networking like a pro.
With every connection you make, the more opportunities you have to expand and boost your business.
And if boosting your business in Staffordshire is top of your priorities right now, then another great avenue to complement your networking is Local SEO. Find out more about this here.
So keep an eye out for Ashfield Marketing at your next Staffordshire networking event and if you know of any other great networking opportunities, we’d love to hear them – tweet me at @CarlAshfield.