Networking is all about VCP; Visibility, Credibility and Profitability. The more you are seen and heard amongst business contacts, providing you carry yourself and your work in a credible fashion; the more profitable you can become; but only if you choose your network carefully.
That is the view of one of the pioneers of networking in South Wales, Lynne Orton, who has ran The Business Network since the turn of the twenty-first century from her base in Port Talbot.
The Business Network was established in 2001 after Lynne identified a need for a relaxed yet effective form of networking amongst the SME market in South Wales. Nearly 13 years after launching, Lynne says it is important than ever that networking is just one facet of your marketing strategy.
‘‘When we started The Business Network the commercial landscape was completely different. Businesses in Wales are much more aware of the importance of networking than they were 13 years ago. We’ve seen a huge diversification of businesses and the increase of start-ups providing essential services has most certainly increased an astronomical amount.’’
Speaking on how to make networking work as effectively as possible for you, Lynne said; ‘‘Firstly, understand why you want to network.’’ A question many fail to ask themselves.
‘‘Outline your objectives, and communicate them to your colleagues and contacts. We always host an orientation meeting with our new members in order to clarify what they want to get out of our meetings and events. Some businesses may wish to increase sales, they may wish to increase their brand recognition and others simply want to expand their network in order to increase their contacts.’’
Lynne continued ‘‘It is hugely important that you reap a benefit from every function. Set yourself targets and ensure you consistently hit them. If you feel you need help, ask a networking colleague or even the event organisers. We help those who feel they could be getting more out of their networking. More often than not, it is only a small change that is needed.’’
Confidence is an issue that many struggle with, especially when it comes to networking. The networking environment thrives on confidence and it is those that overcome confidence issues that get the most benefit from networking.
‘‘Confidence is a huge factor. Some are born with it, other have to build it. It can be incredibly daunting entering a networking function; especially if many of the attendees already know each other. My advice would be to throw yourself in at the deep end and make that first approach to a new contact. Most experienced networkers would gladly help you out and introduce you to friendly faces. It’s in their interest as well as yours.’’
These tips, combined with a good old fashioned dash of common sense, will help you use networking to market your business. It is a platform to communicate your businesses news, objectives, and offering.
‘‘Where else can you have complete control over your communication?’’ said Lynne. ‘‘Networking can be used as a PR tool as well as a sales tool. You get the chance to engage with potential clients, suppliers and referral partners all in one room; all whilst enjoying yourself.’’
The power of networking can dramatically boost your businesses marketing clout, simply by making contacts.
‘‘The more people that you establish a connection with, the more people that know about your company, know about your offering and know who you want to be introduced to.’’ says Lynne.
Another method of making the most of business networking is collaboration. A Lecturer from Cardiff has identified The Business Network as the perfect breeding ground for businesses working together on projects.
Jane Lynch, who lectures on Supplier Management at Cardiff Business School, said at The Business Network’s October exhibition, where she was a guest speaker; ‘‘The Business Network is so important to help get collaboration started. If you don’t know what companies are in your vicinity, how can you expect to find you ideal collaborative partners?”
Echoing Jane’s comments is Bob Meakes, Director for Institute for Collaborative Working (ICW) in Wales.
‘‘Collaborative working is the silent revolution. Everyone is talking about it, but the reality is that very few organisations, large and small, actually understand to a full extent what collaboration entails.”
“Collaboration goes far beyond information sharing or pooling of business resources; effective collaboration constitutes early supplier involvement, transparency, early identification and agreements of core individual strengths. It is also about taking risks. All parties involved are required to make a commitment to the project and to stick to their part, even when the project encounters difficulties.”
It appears that The Business Network is not just an environment for businesses that wish to expand their contacts and take control of their marketing; but it is a platform that they are able to fully immerse themselves in the business community.