Networking to build a successful business – For Alumni, By Alumni24 March 2021
Cheryl Luzet (BA 1999), is founder and CEO of digital marketing agency Wagada, whose team help companies across the globe grow and generate leads. She’s been named one of the UK’s 100 most inspirational female entrepreneurs by Small Business Britain. Here, Cheryl shares her top tips for networking for when in-person events return.
I founded digital marketing agency, Wagada in 2011. My business originated from simple beginnings with the desire to work flexibly after the birth of my second child. With no background in running a business, or experience in sales, I turned to business networking to find clients for my new venture and unearthed a successful way to reach out, make connections and demonstrate my expertise.
My previous experience of networking had been standing nervously with a glass of wine at the back of a large room, whilst everyone else seemed to know the other attendees. But I soon learnt to work the room, make connections and develop a way to get my business in front of people who could support my business goals.
For many people, the thought of walking into a room of strangers and striking up a conversation sparks terror, but with businesses being built on relationships, it’s a vital way to develop your brand and demonstrate your expertise. People buy from people, and business contacts will recommend your business to others, even if they haven’t tried it out, as a result of having met you at a networking event.
Aim to get referrals, rather than sell to the room
When you network, the idea is to build connections with people who will make referrals to others about your business. It’s unlikely that you’ll meet someone at a networking event who wants to buy what you have to offer, so focus on getting referrals. The beauty of referrals is that they are more likely to convert – the same way that if your neighbour recommends an electrician, you are more likely to use them than the electrician you discovered online.
Do your research
Choose the networking events that you want to go to very carefully. In order to build productive relationships, you are going to need to meet the same people more than once, so choose a small selection of events and invest time going to them regularly, rather than going to each event once.
Think about your target customer – who are they and where are you likely to meet them? Some events attract very small businesses, others larger organisations, so choose the event that matches your customer profile.
Don’t sell – make friends
There’s nothing worse than being sold to at a networking event. Approach networking as a way to make friends and develop relationships – it’s those friendships that lead to referrals. That doesn’t mean you can’t talk about what you offer, I would recommend name dropping into conversations other companies you have worked with, and helped, as well as mentioning some success stories. You want people to leave with a strong impression of your expertise and knowledge, as well as your business morals.
Do talks and presentations
If you get the opportunity to do a presentation at a networking event – grab it! This is your moment to tell everyone what you do and to demonstrate your expertise.
Follow up with 121s
Developing strong relationships takes time – so if you meet someone that you click with, invite them for a 121. Ask them to go for a coffee where you can talk more about how you can help each other and make sure you ask them who they would like to work with.
If you help people, they will feel inclined to help you back. Suggest people that your new contact might like to meet and make this introduction by email.
Make sure that you use your time at a networking event to listen to others – this makes people feel valued and appreciated. If you do all the talking, it can be irritating and this won’t be the start of a beautiful relationship.
Make connections on social
Keep your new contacts warm by connecting and engaging with them on social media between meetings. Connecting on LinkedIn is a must, then you can continue the relationship, liking and replying to their posts, so that they keep you at front of mind. Don’t forget to look at other digital networking spaces like Cardiff Connected, Cardiff University’s alumni networking platform, where you can connect with other graduates around the world.
Business networking has allowed me to build my business, raise visibility for my brand and demonstrate our expertise. The contacts that I have made through networking provide 70% of Wagada’s business and have certainly contributed to the success of my company.
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