Play it cool when networking

By Steve Hart

Steve Hart finds that if you want to expand your business contacts, you need to get out more.

Dave Horsfall. Photo / Supplied
Dave Horsfall. Photo / Supplied

If business owners want to connect with other companies and their clients, taking part in regular networking events may be the solution - so long as you are prepared to care and share.

That's the view of Brian Noble, managing director of Achievement Discoveries, a North Shore-based psycho-metric testing company and member of Business Network International (BNI), an organisation that brings business people together for weekly meetings.

"When it comes to good networking, several principles should apply," says Noble. "First off, givers gain.

"If one person gives another person the contacts they need to generate business, then that person should reciprocate.

"Networking is also about finding that second tier of people, the customers of your
business contacts."

But before all else, trust between members of a network must come first, says Noble.

"Typically with the BNI network, members don't get as many referrals in their first year as in subsequent years," he says. "And that is because levels of trust need to be built up.

"Established members do not want to hand over their best clients to new members until they are confident the referral will be a good one."

Not all businesses are ideal for networking clubs, says Noble. Businesses, such as those selling to consumers or network marketing firms, typically don't do as well as those who service other businesses.

When it comes to asking for help from members of a network, Noble says the more specific the request, the better."Just saying, 'Let me know if anyone needs to renew their building insurance' doesn't register in people's minds," he says.

"But if you say, 'Does anyone know Joe Bloggs, the buyer at so and so company?', then either someone will know them or they will know somebody who does."

Noble says rookie mistakes at networking events include trying the hard sell and grabbing everyone's business card ? then adding them to the firm's email database.

"People don't like getting emails from people they don't really know. It's spam," says Noble. "That broad shotgun approach in networking doesn't really work.

"New members of a network need to listen more and speak less ? we have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion."

One company that has just held its first networking event is AH Gears in Penrose. The firm's general manager, David Horsfall, worked with the Maintenance Engineering Society of New Zealand to attract more than 30 engineers, academics and apprentices to his firm's workshop in September.

"Our event was born when we were asked by the Engineering Society if we could hold an evening presentation to discuss the specialist technology of gears and gearboxes," says Horsfall.

"We met lots of people we hadn't seen before and made some very interesting contacts from other firms. They weren't all in the gearbox industry, some were in the peripheral engineering space, but we are all connected in some way."Horsfall held the event to provide information that might help people working in other firms. It was more about sharing knowledge than making sales.

"To be honest, I wouldn't expect to see too many sales as a result of the event," says Horsfall. "It was really held to give people a bit more knowledge about what is inside the case of a gearbox when they come to repair it."

Horsfall expects some of the firms that came to his networking night will hold one of their own and invite him along to meet their contacts.

Noble says inviting people to their premises for a show-and-tell tour can work wonders in drumming up business and that when people see a format of networking that works, they are likely to build on it.

"One member of our BNI chapter has had $2 million worth of referrals," he says. "We see that the average person gets about $25,000 worth of business.

"Something else we do is give one member at the weekly meeting the chance to give a 10-minute presentation."Noble says business networking is a long-term game, which if played right can deliver huge rewards."Build the relationships, keep your network informed and the more you give, the more you get," he says.

How to network:

* Provide as many referrals as you can to people in your network
* Build trust
* Don't be too pushy
* Take a long-term view
* Listen more and speak less at your first networking meetings
* Expect a year to pass before you get a good return from B2B networking activities

- NZ Herald

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