From making sure you’re in the right group to working out your 60 second pitch, Rin Hamburgh looks at what she’s learned about making the most of networking since she first started doing it seven years ago.
Networking is something every business owner or self-employed person is likely to do at some point. And rightly so – it’s a great way to meet people, to get support and generate referrals and new business. But it can also take up a fair amount of time and money. So how do you make sure you’re getting the most value out of it?
Pick the right group
I started networking when I set up my first business in 2012. The first group I joined was a very supportive group of women who met monthly for lunch. This was exactly what I needed – non-threatening, encouraging, no suits and lots of self-employed people working as sole traders.
As I gained in confidence I started going to a fortnightly breakfast meeting where there were business owners – both men and women – with staff and budgets who were able to introduce me into bigger companies and help me grow.
When the twins arrived, these groups became either too expensive or difficult to get to. Freelance Mum was – and still is – an absolute godsend and I’ve now added BS5 Business, Babies and Booze to my networking mix because, well, doesn’t that just sound like the best idea?
The key is to choose groups that work for you in terms of cost, location, mix of people and so on. Ask yourself what you want to gain from it. Do you want to get support from other business owners like you? Or are you looking for introductions, in which case you need to check how well connected the other members are.
Bring the right marketing materials
A business card is an absolute must for networking (although I have to admit, I frequently forget mine!). This is especially important if you’ve got an unusual name that people might struggle to remember or might spell wrong and therefore not be able to look you up.
But you might also want to invest in flyers, brochures or other printed materials in order to give people you meet an instant insight into what you do. For a product based or visual business like photography, pictures really can be worth a thousand words.
And I love the 121 packs that my friends at Hullo Creative make; little folders containing a flyer, a logo sticker, one of their beautiful greetings cards, and a selection of business cards from other freelancers in their collective.
Prepare a pitch
Most networking groups will require you to do some sort of 60 second ‘elevator pitch’ where you tell people who you are, what you do and what you’re looking for. Even at Freelance Mum, which has a much more relaxed format, there’s an opportunity to introduce yourself during the Business Exchange segment at the end.
There are lots of different ways to structure a pitch. I’m currently on the Natwest Accelerator Programme and regularly have to pitch during our workshop and other events. The structure we’ve been taught there is Hook, Problem, Solution, Traction, Ask – there’s more about that in our blog post, How to write a 60 second elevator pitch.
But essentially you want to make sure that you summarise not only what you do but what that actually means for your customers or clients. For example, I don’t just say that we do copywriting. Instead I say that we “harness the power of words to drive significant business results.”
Spend time really honing your pitch and get comfortable with delivering it – make your other half listen to you or practice in the mirror. Because, whether you’re at a networking group or not, you never know when someone important is going to ask what you do. The right words might open the door to your next big thing.
Remember to ‘sell through the room’
Once you arrive at your chosen networking group, it might be tempting to try and sell your products and services to as many people as possible. But let’s face it, no one likes a pushy salesperson, do they?
Remember that networking is a long game – it’s about building relationships, letting people get to know you and starting to understand what their challenges and needs are too. It may be that your product or service is right for them but let that emerge naturally.
In fact, if you just sold to people within your group you really wouldn’t be making the most of your network. The trick is to ’sell through the room, not to the room’ – in other words, build those networking contacts into advocates who can speak about you to their networks and thereby widen your reach.
As an example, the lovely Zoe Whitman of But The Books, who I met at Freelance Mum, passed my details to her husband, who works at a big marketing agency. We ended up doing huge amounts of work with them, opening up a whole new market for us.
Remember to follow up
The majority of the value you’ll get from networking won’t actually happen in the meeting itself but afterwards. That’s why it’s important to follow up. If you’ve taken business cards, connect with those people on LinkedIn, follow their account on Instagram or like their business page on Facebook.
You may have identified people who you think will be a good fit for you, perhaps because you have complimentary businesses with the same target audience. For me as a copywriter this may be a graphic designer, web designer, even photographer. In this case, arrange a 121 so you can get to know each other better.
A lot of networking groups have online groups too, for example Freelance Mum’s Facebook group, The Mothership. Being active on these channels is an excellent way to keep in touch with people, especially if your group only meets monthly or if you struggle to make every meeting.
If you’re going to spend time and money on networking then make sure you get as much out of it as you can. That might take a little bit more time or money – for example to write that pitch or get flyers printed – but the return on your investment will make it well worth the effort.
If you want to brush up on your networking skills in a warm, family friendly environment, why not come along to Freelance Mum? Your first meeting is free! Find out when the next event is here.