In the world of SMEs, success often doesn’t come down to just what you know, but who you know, says entrepreneur, company director and published author Alan Manly.
But the art of networking isn’t something that comes naturally to a lot of SME owners, says Manly, who has extensive experience owning and managing SMBs.
“Not everyone in business is a natural show pony. Some are inherently shy, and while you don’t need to be the loudest person at networking events, you still need to know how to work the room.”
Here are Manly’s six tips for overcoming the fear of networking and line up new opportunities.
1# Find a function – be proactive
Every industry has a body that organises functions suitable for networking. If you someone who goes to such functions already, ask to come along as their guest, says Manly.
“This person will no doubt introduce you to their friends,” he says.
If you’re proactive and start instigating connections then more will follow, Manly says.
“If you don’t know anyone in an industry group, contact an industry body and ask for the date of the next meeting,” he says.
“Introduce yourself to the people running the reception desk. Odds are someone will adopt you and introduce you to regular attendees.”
#2 Meet and greet
What if you are in a room and no one approaches you to start a conversation?
“A certain amount of bravery is required,” says Manly. “Time is money, and the aim is to get a return on your time by attending this function.”
The tried and tested way is to approach a smaller group conversing and introduce yourself.
“This method has a high success rate because the others are also trying to network and they know that their next great contact could be you,” Manly says.
Practice your introduction so you know exactly what you will say and feel confident doing so, he says.
#3 Present what you sell
Use your ‘elevator pitch’ to quickly and simply define a process, product, service, company, and its value proposition, advises Manly.
“Don’t be put off because you’re worried it sounds a little rehearsed,” Manly says.
“It needs to be word perfect! You only have thirty seconds! Open with: ‘I am in the (broad description) business specialising in (narrow description) located somewhere close’. Watch their face closely. What is the reaction?”
This can help filter out people are aren’t interested in your business, or unlikely to be a useful contact for the future, Manly says.
#4 Qualify your lead
Every conversation is a sales conversation, says Manly.
“Having successfully introduced yourself and delivered your elevator speech, it is time to qualify your prospect,” he says.
“Look obviously at their name tag and read the first name slowly - everyone loves to hear their name. As you finish your elevator pitch and listen for response to see if they want to work with you, or move on.
“You sales lead will now hopefully deliver their elevator speech so listen for clues of usefulness.”
#5 Close the sale
These casual conversations are a great starting point for sealing a new connection that could be valuable for your business. But if you decide they will not be a good resource and need to move on, don’t underestimate standard politeness, says Manly.
Handing over your business card and politely moving on is an acceptable practice at networking events, he says.
“Networking is mixing with people who can become useful contacts,” he says. “Avoid time wasters or people out for the occasion.”
“With a bit of practice you will be making a wider range of contacts for your business.”