Networking is an ideal way to meet prospective customers and existing clients, and to keep your products and services fresh in their minds.

However, when you’re at the umpteenth networking meeting with contacts you’ve met with for years, how can you keep their interest and promote your brand or services without constantly selling or just making small talk?

Here are seven ideas to keep your networking engaging, interesting and enjoyable for everyone – including you!

1. Don’t sell

This may seem counter-intuitive, but true networking is not about the hard sell. It’s about building brand awareness, a local presence, and creating your own network of people who are potentially as useful to you as you are to them. Yes, you might get some business immediately after joining, but the majority of work will probably emerge after you become known and recognised within your networking group.

So, listen as much as you talk, and give as much as you take, to start building relationships that will last. Commit to regular attendance too, so people will know you’ll be there to talk to.

2. Be selective with your networks

Unless you have the luxury of endless free time and a limitless budget, you should be selective about where and when you network. Let’s start with where. Not every event will be worthwhile – there may be too many people from your industry, or too few people to expand your network further. Also consider:

  • Is it cost effective in terms of travel?
  • How much is the annual membership fee, if any?
  • How much is it per session?
  • Are you going just because you always go/ it’s close/you know people there?

If a group doesn’t feel right for you, go with your gut instinct and find another. You might get better value for your money and time by attending an industry-specific event, or an invitation-only session which may be more focussed.

3. Network at times to suit you

When you network can be as important as where. Networking events can be held:

  • First thing in the morning (breakfast meetings)
  • At lunchtime
  • After working hours (5pm onwards)

The question is: when are you at your best, and what’s best for your business?

Breakfast: We know business folk who love to get up bright and early and chat over a croissant, whereas for others there it has clearly been a struggle even with a second mug of coffee in their hand. If you are not a morning person, it’ll show, so don’t go!

Lunch: Networking lunches are popular for professional groups as a chance to catch up with fellow members and to also focus on a specific topic. Many women’s networking groups also meet over lunch, or morning coffee, for a more relaxed atmosphere.

After work: Our personal choice is for a post-work event. Here, you can talk for a little longer without that breakfast feeling that you ought to be in the office by now, avoid any guilt over taking two hours + for lunch, and still be home in time to put the kids to bed or go to the gym!

Our Chamber Business After Five events are held on the first or second Tuesday of the month, from September to June each year. Hosted by one of our members at their place of business, it’s a chance to meet new and existing members, and discuss current business topics. All BAFs are free to current Chamber members.

4. Keep in contact in between meetings

Networking doesn’t end the moment you walk out the door. Continue to build the relationship via LinkedIn, social media, or, as an article in Forbes suggests, a personalized video message.

“You can record it on a webcam (or smart phone) in under a minute. Customize it based on your relationship. … This is a good way to engage with people and get them to pay attention to a short message. Keep it casual and avoid using hard-sell tactics.”

5. Partner with other businesses

This is another Forbes tip we really like. Team up with another business to cross-promote to customers that overlap in terms of demographics, interests or even just similar locations. So, a florist might team up with a coffee shop, or a car tire depot with a body repair shop. If you do choose to partner, why not do a joint ‘elevator pitch’ at your next networking event, for a memorable twist on your usual pitch!

We’ve seen this kind of informal partnership in action at business expos too, with a specialist printer and a graphic designer sharing a stand, or an accountant and a small local charity. Both get the benefit of networking to each others customers, and it make the stand more interesting to visit too!

6. Interesting props for your pitch

Not every networking group allows you to use props in your 1 minute talk or 30 second elevator pitch session. If they do, make the most of it! Try and make it memorable whilst still being businesslike, and keep it related to your offering rather than just a gimmick. 

We’ve seen:

  • a professional singer sing their pitch to 30 seconds of a famous song with changed lyrics
  • an SEO expert use her archery kit to show she has various strings to her bow
  • a celebrant encouraging her regular networking friends to join in her catchphrase of “hatch, match and dispatch”
  • a clothes designer wearing her latest impressive and colourful creations
  • a travel agent wearing shirts and hats from around the world to tie in with their latest travel promotion

If you do use a prop, make sure you practice your pitch with it several times before the day, so  you won’t get timed out.

7. Try a new network outside your area

Many networking groups offer you the chance to enjoy a session as a guest before you need to commit to joining for a year. This is a great opportunity to venture outside your area and expand your networking options for a relatively low cost. If you choose to join, make sure you have the time to make any several networking membership fees viable.

Not sure where to look for new networking opportunities? The booking service Eventbrite lists ticketed networking events – well worth a look for inspiration.

Or just ask at your existing network group members if they are also part of another network – and why. It’s a great subject to discuss with people you’ve already met several times. They might invite you along as their guest, which creates another opportunity to build a new contact relationship.

Networking at your Chamber is free

Remember, our Business After Five events are free to members, and hosted by member businesses in and around Woodstock. If you haven’t been before, we promise a warm welcome and a friendly, inclusive atmosphere. Click here for more details.