When company leaders plan to promote their business, they usually think in terms of marketing and advertising. However, regularly networking with other companies is another essential — and often misunderstood — part of gaining a place in the industry.
How does networking help your business? How do you choose the best practices for network building? Learn all this and more in the following overview.
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What Does Your Business Gain From Networking?
Effective networking will result in varied and long-lasting gains, but its benefits are difficult to summarize in numbers. A business owner can say, “This advertising campaign has netted a revenue of $X.” But evaluating your company’s profit from social events is less straightforward.
You never know when you might meet a helpful contact as you talk to people or when networking events might produce business leads. However, consistently putting your company forward can help you grow your professional footprint in several ways. How does networking help your business? Review the benefits below.
No business exists in a vacuum. Except for your direct competitors, business owners in your industry can become a source of relevant, useful connections. Networking can:
- Put you in touch with industry influencers
- Open doors for collaborative projects
- Help you win endorsements from industry authorities
Sometimes, networking may lead to direct opportunities for your company. Someone you meet at a corporate event may say, “Hey, I think your company may be a good fit for a project I have in mind.”
Professional communication is the key to handling potential leads. Nobody likes a pushy, hard-sale attitude. Courtesy, sensitivity, and the right timing will help you secure clients and useful partnerships.
Industry Trends and Practices
What are the current business trends in your industry? Are companies similar to yours switching to updated types of software? What do suppliers expect from the latest economic shifts? Often, there is nothing like insider knowledge to gain useful information about the latest and best industry practices.
Shared Experience and Feedback
If your business is just starting out, networking may serve to connect you to prominent company leaders in your field. These successful entrepreneurs might have been in your shoes a few years ago. They may share useful practices that have helped them advance their businesses or tell you what worked for them and what didn’t. They may also offer tips you could implement to propel your company forward.
Regularly attending industry events can help you raise your business profile and build a professional image. If you create a favourable impression on the right people, you gain support from established authorities in your industry.
What to Do Before Attending a Networking Event
Profitable networking begins well before you walk through the doors and start talking to people. Make the most of your next business event with a mix of strategy and background research.
As a busy entrepreneur, you have limited time for mingling and making contacts. Choose your networking commitments wisely by researching the events and places where you have the highest chance of meeting useful people. If you know most industry authorities are going to attend an upcoming conference, you want to be there too.
On the other hand, you may unexpectedly meet your next big client at a ball game or discover that your neighbour’s cousin has a network of valuable contacts in your industry. Keep your business pitch polished to make sure you miss no opportunities.
Do Your Homework
Have you booked your place at a business event? Try to find out who is going to attend. Use LinkedIn and other professional sources to collect information about professional contacts you may meet during the event. You will win points if, while introducing yourself to someone, you can say, “I have heard about your company. Your latest project in Southeast Asia was very impressive.”
Prepare to Introduce Yourself
The first seven seconds of a meeting will likely determine whether you hook or lose your potential business contact. Smart, industry-appropriate clothes, a smile, and a confident posture will help you create a positive first impression.
As you prepare for a corporate event, you should also practice your elevator pitch — a brief summary of your business traits, goals, and prospects, engaging enough to grab a stranger’s attention and short enough to fit into an elevator ride.
How to Become a Better Networker
“I know networking can help my business,” you may be thinking, “But I often feel awkward when I approach people and try to talk about my business.”
In many ways, networking is a form of art. It requires some talent, awareness, and social skills. However, even natural introverts can become successful networkers with the right approach.
Be Ready to Help Others
Reciprocity is probably the most important element in productive networking. Before you try to interest people in your business or tap into their professional contact pool, think how you could be useful to them.
Mutual usefulness doesn’t always take the form of direct give-and-take. When you help others without expecting any immediate return, you gain business allies and score points that may serve you later. Offer value, and people will be more likely to think about you in the future when a relevant business opportunity crops up.
Listen and Communicate
Nothing could be more natural than the wish to introduce your business. After all, that’s why you’re networking, right? However, a conversation with a new contact probably won’t last long if you only talk about yourself and your company. Be ready to listen, show attention, or offer useful information that involves not only your business.
Nurture Existing Connections
A business networking event isn’t just for making fresh contacts. It can be an opportunity to reconnect with people you haven’t talked to in a while.
Building a professional rapport takes time. Having a limited but trusty circle of reliable business connections is probably more useful than an extensive network of superficial contacts who hardly remember you. Your established contacts are more likely to recommend you to potential clients, offer insider information, or provide helpful feedback on business practices.
Cultivating connections takes some time and attention. Touch base with your business contacts by phone or email once in a while, even when you don’t need any direct help. You could also insert valuable contacts’ birthdays in your business calendar and send them a personalized greeting.
Follow Up with New Contacts
Did you strike up an interesting conversation with someone you met at a networking event? Now it’s time to establish a business relationship. Connect with your new contact on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter, invite them to attend a relevant conference, or even email them to wish them a happy holiday season.
Project a Positive Outlook
A cheerful attitude will help you connect with people during a business event. Avoid delicate subjects like layoffs, toxic corporate culture in your former company, or your disappointment in a major industry supplier.
Even if what you say is 100% true, choosing negative topics or gossiping about others doesn’t contribute to your business image, especially when you communicate with people you don’t know well. It is far better to share a success story or tell about an industry conference you have attended lately.
Break the Ice
A business event should focus on professional topics, but a little mix of the personal can help you break the ice with new people.
For example, if you belatedly notice some pet hair on your business suit, you could brush it off with a smile and a few words about your dog. An occasional mention of your kids, your recent house move, or your latest vacation will present you as a friendlier, more approachable character.
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