How to leverage business events to build your business

by Editorial Team
5 minutes read

Business networking, which refers to the socio-economic activity in which
businesspeople interact with others with the view to recognise, create and utilise
business opportunities are increasingly becoming an effective method of brand
marketing in Zimbabwe. This is especially so for Small to Medium Enterprises
(SMEs) which are characterised by a lack of meaningful marketing budgets?
Benefits of networking

Networking has a number of benefits when compared to conventional brand
marketing strategies. For example, placing a full-page full-colour advertisement
in a local daily newspaper costs hundreds of dollars while attending a
networking event may cost up to US$20 and gives the entrepreneur access to
potential customers with whom s/he can talk and forge possible future business
relationships which a press advertisement cannot achieve.
Most people prefer to do business with people whom they trust. Networking
enables you as an entrepreneur to build trust among other entrepreneurs that you
network with. Trust is built over time and constant and consistent networking
facilitates trust-building. Networking also involves referring business to each
other. This means that an unknown entrepreneur can be trusted by another
because a third and trusted entrepreneur who is known by both has introduced
them to each other.
An enterprise can manufacture an excellent product but in the absence of a
critical mass of customers the product may fail to make an impact in its target
market. Networking enables entrepreneurs to build contacts which can be future
customers if well-cultivated and exploited. An entrepreneur who networks well
benefits from recommendations from other businesspeople.
Successful businesses are built on the foundation of sound relationships.
Networking helps you to build relationships with other businesspeople. In these
times of liquidity crisis getting supplies on credit is very important in keeping a
business operating. If you enjoy a good relationship with your supplier the latter
can allow your raw materials on credit on the basis of the relationship.
Networking presents an opportunity to build such beneficial relationships with
fellow entrepreneurs.

How to network

Too many entrepreneurs, networking is just about chatting and exchanging
business cards with fellow business people at networking events. Nothing is
further from the truth. Networking is more than networking events. It is a
businessman’s lifestyle. It is about identifying opportunities to build trust and
relationships with other entrepreneurs wherever and whenever. We have seen
people chatting and exchanging business cards at funerals as coffins are being
lowered into graves. While there is no conventional successful networking
formula, a few tips can help you to be a better networker.
When choosing networking events go for ones which have the potential to link
you with potential contacts. Do not attend networking events with the intention
of harvesting contacts. Instead, go with the intention to meet potential contacts.
You can pick as many business cards as possible but if they are not backed by
face to face interaction with the business cards owners the cards may not be of
much use to you.
As you build relationships with other businesspeople do not just seek your own
gain. Strive to help as many people as possible without seeking direct rewards.
The more people you help the more your name becomes known. This creates a
fertile ground for referrals as other people try to return the favours that you do
Your networking efforts are more likely to succeed if you strive to be a person
of integrity. Deliver on your promises and do not short-cut processes in the hope
of saving money as this may negatively affect your product or corporate brand.
Nobody wants to refer business to an entrepreneur of poor integrity or an
enterprise which is known for shoddy products or services. The more your
network members can rely on you and your enterprise to deliver on any
assignment the more business will be channelled to you.
Remember that networking is a lifestyle and not an event. Maintain the contacts
that you make at networking events by phoning and visiting them regularly even
if it means just to say “Hi”. It is out of such gestures that you can exchange vital
information about available business opportunities. Increase your value to your
contacts network by finding opportunities and sharing them. These may be
tenders which you think members of your network are better placed to bid for.

Keep up to date with events and developments in your industry as this arms you
with information which can separate you from other business people through the
depth of your conversations. This can position you as a thought leader in your
industry and other people will die to have you as their contact.
At networking events

Go to each event with a target number of people to interact with. This works
especially if you are a shy businessperson. This helps you to overcome your
introverted nature which can be a major deterrent to successful networking.
When meeting another person for the first time, offer your hand and introduce
yourself. Shake their hand firmly and smile. This presents you as welcoming
and it helps the other person to open up. Tell the person your company name
and its main line of business. This usually prompts him to also talk about
himself and his company. Do not dominate the conversation. Naturally, people
want to hear their own voices so let them talk. As they speak take mental notes
of the areas where your company can provide solutions help but do not be
tempted to sell your brand. This is a networking event and not a pitching event.
Sometimes some people at network events are so popular that everyone would
want to chat with them. Do not monopolise the person. Give other people a
chance. Also, avoid the temptation to “overstay” in conversation. You have to
meet other people so after a reasonable time bid your interactant farewell by
saying, “I suppose it’s time we mingled”. Like you, part ways do not offer a
business card unless it is requested for. One way to go round this is by asking
for the other person’s business card. Once he gives him, he will feel obliged to
ask for yours.
Networking can be a very effective way of marketing your brand and growing
your business if used properly. These tips are not exhaustive. There are many
more out there. Keep perfecting your networking skills. You can do this by
reading and viewing material on networking and practising the new skills. You
can share your own networking experiences with other entrepreneurs globally
using this blog’s comments platform.

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