These days lots of people ask me questions about networking. I attend several networking events every week, plus get questions directed to me on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pretty constantly.
And something which a lot of people seem to want to know is “Will I find bigger businesses at networking events?”. In fact I was tweeted last night by someone who specifically asked “hi Stefan .. Q: Do you think networking works for those co’s who want to work with large organisations?😃”.
My answer is always, unequivocally, absolutely “yes, networking DOES work for businesses who want to get into bigger organisations”.
I can absolutely qualify this by pointing out that my clients include 123-Reg, exponential-e, Chartered Institute of Securities and Investments, Unitron, The London Borough of Redhill, The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and many others who would fall into the category or “bigger businesses”, all of whom I have met through or as a result of my networking efforts.
So it does work, but there’s a catch.
You don’t just pitch up at networking events and find a load of major banks, utility companies and other huge businesses waiting to buy from you, I think it is really important to manage the expectations of those who do ask the question, to make sure that isn’t what they’re expecting. The bigger businesses are there, sometimes directly in the room and sometimes linked to people in the room. But just because you’re there and want to work with them, doesn’t mean that they will automatically want to work with you.
As with a lot I have talked about relating to networking and social media, it takes effort and application.
Here is what, in my opinion, you need to do.
- Be there for the long term. Don’t just swing into a few networking events, look around for bigger businesses, decide they’re not there and not turn up again. People sometimes ask me for referrals into my larger clients the first time I meet them. You need to put effort to build that trust with the people around you, and one way of doing it is to regularly be there and get known by the other people in the network who may have the clients you want to be in front of.
- Be demonstrably brilliant at what you do. As well as focusing on looking for bigger clients, make sure that you offer great value to all the clients you work for. They may well be in a position to refer you to their bigger clients.
- Be visible all over social media. I have had enquiries from bigger clients on LinkedIn, Twitter and by Facebook message. You need to be where they are, and it isn’t just LinkedIn. Remember as well that the person who may originally be tasked to find a supplier may not be Director level, I’ve had approaches from people at all levels, including an intern who was tasked to find some potential speakers for an event.
- Have a presence on social media. Have content out there which demonstrates that you know your stuff. Write, video, podcast about what you do and do that in volume. I love Gary Vaynerchuk’s expression about becoming the “authority of content”. If you want people to know that you are an authority on your subject, then be one. Put out blogs, articles, LinkedIn posts, long form Facebook post which establish you as just that. If you’re not doing it, someone else may be. They might not be as “good” as you, but may well be more visible.
- Keep in touch with every enquiry. Some companies will take a LONG time to make a decision. Keep gently in touch. Some companies may have an initial idea, but have to run it through various meetings and committees before it goes anywhere.
- Keep in touch with everyone you meet generally. It is so simple, in 2016, to keep in touch with people at scale, through social, Email marketing, networking at events. The real opportunity is that most people won’t bother, so if you are doing so, in a meaningful way, that will keep you front of mind for when a potential opportunity comes up. Someone once said that 80% of success is just showing up, and the truth is that most people don’t do even that. Be there.
- Learn from your mistakes and don’t be afraid to make them. I got knocked back by a very large organisation this year. They had approached me, I was a bit too desperate to sell to them, that came across and the work went to someone else. It was time to have a glass of wine, dust myself down, reply very politely and make sure I didn’t slam that particular door and just make sure I didn’t make that error in future.
My choice is to have options within my business for all sizes of business, from training and seminars delivered at scale where I don’t need to charge the individual businesses very much, right through to keynotes and workshops delivered for corporate clients where they buy me exclusively for a day or number of days.
And if you’ve got no experience working with bigger businesses, but want to get into them, then you need to keep at whatever you’re doing and look for your break. I got mine with a major retailer back in 2010. But finding that break involved me going to a load of networking events and meeting a load of people who didn’t refer me into a major retailer. I guess my second big break was sitting next to a commissioning editor for the “Dummies” series of books at The Business Show in London in May 2013, and that involved me going to that show twice a year, for two days, for six years before I was sat next to her.
Being in the right place at the right time, as I’ve said before, is ridiculously simple, it just isn’t that easy.
No matter what type of business you want to get to, there is always a strategy for doing so, and that strategy will always involve effort and application.
Stefan Thomas is the author of ‘Business Networking for Dummies’ and ‘Instant Networking‘ both available on Amazon. You can join him over on his Facebook group – The Networking Retreat.