02 July 2015

Q&A: The benefits of networking

A Q&A with WeAreTheCity founder and networking expert Vanessa Vallely, who explains the benefits of good networking to small businesses

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How can networking benefit a small business or start-up?

Vanessa Vallely (VV): “Networking is fundamental. Not only can it enable you to find out about new opportunities, but you can also meet new contacts, learn new skills and knowledge, and build your confidence. Ultimately, it can help your business to grow, sometimes significantly. The label ‘networking’ can be off-putting, which is why I advise people to think of it simply as having conversations.”

What is the point?

VV: “You shouldn’t network for the sake of it or simply collect business cards like stamps. And it’s not just a question of meeting people at an event; success is determined by how you nurture relationships afterwards. Approach meeting people at networking events thinking ‘What can I do for you?’ rather than ‘What can you do for me?’.”

What networking mistakes are common?

VV: “Seeing networking events solely as providing the chance to sell. Talking too much about yourself and not listening enough. Being too dominant and pushy. Finding ways to help someone else is a good way to start a business relationship. Networking events provide the opportunity to start relationships. Getting to the point where they will buy from you normally takes time.”

What if I’m not a natural networker?

VV: “Not everyone is, but the more you do it, the better you can become. Arming yourself with a short explanation of who you are and what your business does helps. Often this is called an ‘elevator pitch’. Make it clear and concise, but not robotic. Avoid jargon and focus on the benefits your business offers. Also take people on a journey. Tell them why you started your business; how you developed it and what your plans are for the future.”

How important is listening when networking?

VV: “Critical. It shouldn’t be you just talking at people; you need to find out about them, their journey and how you can help each other. Always show interest in others and listen carefully. You must be in the ‘networking zone’ – not thinking of other things or it will show. Your body language and how you engage with others is very important. You must show genuine interest in others.”

Any other advice for networking events?

VV: “Don’t aim to achieve too much; see such events as a chance to make contacts you later follow up. Get the other person’s contact details. Later send them a request via LinkedIn, email or call them. Aim to maintain contact, perhaps by occasionally sending them links to information that is relevant to them. Also introduce them to others in your network. If you connect people, that starts to perpetuate and you are mentioned to others and become part of their network.”

Do I need to commit a lot of time to networking?

VV: “You need to commit enough time. I’m based in London, so I could go to networking events every night of the week, but you need to be selective. Websites such as Find Networking Events enable you to find out about local business events. Do your homework beforehand; find out why the events are taking place and who will be there, if possible. Don’t just confine yourself to industry-specific gatherings, because other events offer the chance to connect and learn.”

What is ‘profile’ and how can I develop mine?

VV: “Networking can be a great way to raise your personal and business profile – the extent to which you, your business or brand are known – but you must do that in a way you’re comfortable with. You can’t turn an introvert into an extrovert, but at the same time you can’t afford to hide yourself away in business – your competitors won’t hide themselves away. As well as attending networking events, your personal profile can be built by making yourself available to journalists for interview, perhaps writing your own articles and blogs, using LinkedIn to draw people’s attention to relevant and interesting content. Do what’s right for you, because then it will come across as authentic.”

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