After many years advising clients to get out and about and start networking with businesses in their area, last year I joined my first networking group representing Sixothree - The BforB Manchester Ladies Group. Not only have I just renewed my membership for another year but I also now attend another two networking groups.
In the past year, it's become more clear than ever to me that whether you have a small start-up or a bigger, more established business, networking can offer great business opportunities and should form part of your overall marketing strategy.
Benefits of business networking
Networking raises your business profile and can increase your sales by building strong relationships with other business professionals. It's not about selling, it's about developing relationships.
What I really like about the BforB Manchester Ladies group is that it's not only an opportunity to network with some fantastic business women in the area, it's also been a great support network. When I joined the group, my goal was to generate new business for Sixothree. Whilst I have achieved this, I have also met some fantastic new suppliers and people I have collaborated with on various projects.
Which is the right networking group for me?
Most people have heard of BforB, 4Networking and BNI - Three well established networking organisations. There are also a number of smaller networking groups. A simple Google search for networking in your area will show some good results and you'll find when you attend meetings, you'll then learn of other networking groups to try.
Most networking groups allow you to attend for a few sessions before you commit. So take the opportunity to visit as many as you can and talk to other members. This will not only enable you to see how each group is run and speak to existing members, but it also increases your profile and awareness of your company - just by attending and handing out your business cards. To decide which group is the best for you, consider the following:
- Which group feels right? Is the culture a good fit?
- Did you like the set up? Was there a clear structure?
- How well did you get on with the people there? Can you see yourself working with them in the future?
- Can you attend regularly? Does it fit in with your business commitments and lifestyle?
The one you felt most comfortable with, and with members you could see yourself working with in the future, is possibly the right one for you. But bear in mind as well that each networking group carries different costs, so you will want to join the one you feel has most potential and which will give you the best return on investment. You're not only investing your money in membership fees but you're also investing your time.
How do I ensure the best return on my investment?
Once you've joined, you should continuously review the investment. Make sure you're giving it 100% and that it's the best use of your budget and time. A few things to bear in mind:
- Networking is not selling, it's about building relationships.
- The more effort you put in, the more you will get out.
- Opportunities for new business go beyond the group. People may refer you to friends, colleagues and family members so the potential goes beyond that of the number of members in the group.
- Don't expect to start getting leads/referrals straight away. People need to get to know you and trust you before they will refer you. I didn't start seeing a return on my membership at BforB until after 6 months of membership. I now work directly with a number of members and they are actively referring Sixothree for marketing support.
- It's a two-way process. Take the time to learn about other member businesses. Don't just go to the meetings to get new business for yourself; you need to be seen to be supporting others as well and referring their business when a suitable opportunity arises.
- Networking doesn't just stop at the meeting. Continue to chat and meet with members and guests outside of the group as well to continue to build your relationships.
Sixothree currently networks at three networking groups, two in Manchester and one in Wigan.
BforB Manchester Ladies
BforB is a relaxed, yet structured meeting designed to encourage quality referrals. Members are encouraged to have one-to-one meetings outside of the group to develop a better understanding of member businesses and the types of referrals they're looking for. We are actively referring business to each other and so far we have generated over £25,000 of business between us.
Women in Business Manchester
Organised by the iHub Office, this is conveniently in central Manchester where the Sixothree office is based. The event is aimed at bringing Manchester's finest female entrepreneurs and women in business together. At each event, three female entrepreneurs talk about their journeys - how they've developed their business, what challenges they've faced along the way, and how they've overcome these obstacles. Many of the speeches have been very inspirational and the number of attendees has increased each month.
Dates for your diary
- The next BforB Manchester Ladies meeting is Tuesday 21st February 09:45-11:30 at the The Ainscow Hotel. This event is bi-weekly.
- The next Women in Business Manchester event is Thursday 2nd March 18:00-21:00 at the iHub, City Tower. This event is monthly.
I also regularly attend the FubHub (Females Uniting in Business) networking group in Wigan. If you're looking to network with businesses outside of Manchester, it's a great group and well attended. The next meeting is Wednesday 8th March 09:30-11:30 at the DW Stadium. This event is monthly.
If you'd like to attend any of these events as my guest, please contact me for details firstname.lastname@example.org.