Why networking matters (and how to do it more effectively) Darren Upson from Xero

It didn’t take long for the word ‘networking’ to become another business buzzword – a noun hammered crudely into the shape of a verb. But, over time, it’s proven to be a genuinely significant word for the entrepreneurial community. Put simply, it’s about building connections: connections that help your business, boost your confidence, and get your name known in the right circles.

Whether you’re a risk-taker or a more cautious type, it’s worth having a think about how you network. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach – but with time, consideration, and strategy, you can make the right connections for you and your business.

Why network?

Securing new business is pretty important for any organisation, and it’s not something that can materialise out of thin air. The term “If you build it, they will come” does not resonate in today’s business environment: you have to sell the idea of what you’re offering to people, and hope that they’ll talk about it to their friends.

A Nielsen study on consumer trust found that 92% of consumers believe that suggestions from friends and family are more effective than advertising. Word of mouth is one of the most reliable forms of marketing, and without the right network, you can’t benefit from it.

Fortunately, if you’ve recently launched a business, you’ll have good experience of chatting to investors, pitching your ideas, and getting your brand out there. See how can you put this experience to good use.

Building connections

An important first step is getting to know your potential customers – and to do that, you need to find out what makes them tick. Events represent a particularly good networking opportunity: people who attend are generally business-minded, but also more relaxed than they would be in a more formal setting. Sites such as Eventbrite or LinkedIn can be an excellent way to figure out what’s going on in your local area, and a lot of the events are free to attend.

Once you’re down to attend, set yourself some goals – there’s no point attending a networking event if you don’t know what you want to get out of it. It could be that you simply want to make five meaningful connections. Think about rehearsing your elevator pitch before you go.

After every conversation, make a note of any key points that came out of the discussion. As well as making sure you don’t forget crucial bits of information, it will also make it much easier to follow up after the event.

Regardless of whether you succeed or fail, you’ll increase your confidence simply by talking to people.

Maintain relationships

It’s really important that you follow up after you’ve met someone. This saves you becoming one of the many business cards gathering dust in a bag – never to see daylight again. Send LinkedIn requests, follow them on Twitter, invite them to coffee or lunch when you’ve both got time in the diary.

One thing to bear in mind in these follow ups is that relationships go both ways. Just like you are contacting them to benefit your business, what is it you can offer them in return? It could just be that you share an article of interest, or put them in touch with someone to help them. This builds trust which can go a long way in the long run.

Bigger network, better net worth

Of course, nowadays, you don’t have to leave the house to develop connections. Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook all offer opportunities to find and interact with like minded groups in your local area. This makes it possible to learn additional skills, attract additional investors, and get to grips with new technology. Sometimes the most productive business partnerships start with a tweet, an InMail, or a wall post.

Regardless of how you do it, networking offers huge opportunities. The more customers you bring in, the more money you make, the more capable you are of realising your ambitions and the more good advice you receive. Start building your network today, and you’ll have a better business tomorrow.