If boiler replacement north London is your thing or maybe you are an accountant or a startup company looking for the most cost effective way to grow your business then network events in London are the way to go. If you were to ask an average business owner how they managed to get new business many would say ‘through referrals’ and referral networking is a tremendous way to grow a business.
The problem arises in that most business owners rely on chance meetings to generate this growth. They have no structured plan as so it is very difficult to predict the amount of business that is going to be generated over a given time period.
There has been a tremendous growth in recent years of formal business networking groups to address this issue and in London there are now hundreds of such groups which address the needs of a very varied business population.
In London business network meeting tend to fall into several major categories:
- Large, unstructured groups
- Speed networks
- Small, highly structured meetings – referral networking groups
- Specialist, segmented groups
Let’s look at each one in turn and identify the pros and cons:
Type 1 Networking Events: Large Unstructured Networking Groups
These are normally held at a different physical location every time. They can be breakfast, lunch or evening events and range in size from about fifty individuals up to several hundred people. The event locations tend to be hotels, restaurants or custom event venues and food and wine is often provided.
The majority of these events are run by membership driven groups where you pay an annual subscription to join and then an individual fee for each event to cover the cost of food wine and venue hire. Some of the larger groups can meet many times each week with bigger gatherings once or twice a month. Most of the time it is not compulsory to attend an event, you pay as you go and dip in and out of the event schedule depending on how much networking you can cope with.
With the larger membership groups you might attend many different events and never see the same people twice, but if you go to lots of events then you will start to see some familiar faces appearing. Examples of groups of this type are The London Chamber of Commerce, 4N Networking and Business Junction.
- The groups are unstructured, so you don’t have to follow a fixed agenda.
- You attend when you want, no penalty for not attending.
- No pressure to provide referrals to other members
- The large number of meetings gives you the opportunity to meet many different people. If you want to push your business by using networking, this is a great way to do it.
- Costs tend to be low and only rise if you attend lots of events
- You tend not to build long term relationships as you meet different people each time
- It’s difficult to know what to expect from any one event as they can vary a lot, even between events run by the same group
Type Networking Events: Speed Networks
Based on the concept of speed dating, there are now a number of speed networking groups now running in London and it seems to becoming very popular. You will often see these run at some of the larger trade shows such as The Business Show in Olympia and ExCel
Speed networking can be fun but be prepared, often you only get 60 seconds to explain your business and what makes you special. Practice your pitch before the event and take plenty of business cards because you won’t have time to take many notes.
After the event, quickly go through the cards and make notes of any people that you would like to follow up with. Send them an email and follow up with a phone call the next day to arrange a meeting.
- You meet lots of businesses in a short period of time
- You get to put yourself in front of a large number of potential clients
- The cost per event is often low
- No chance to explain your unique selling points in any detail
- No chance to build a relationship
- You will be forgotten quickly, so try to make an impression
Top Tip: Always take a business card and write short action point notes on the back to remind you what you have agreed to do. If you find someone interesting, follow up quickly with an email or a call the next day. If you leave it any longer, they will have forgotten you.
Type 3 Networking Events: Smaller, Referral Based Networking Groups
Groups of this type are typified by the BNI (Business Networking International) style of networking. The idea is for a relatively small group of local business owners to meet at the same location at the same time every week and pass referrals to each other. This type of networking is fundamentally different to Networking types 1 & 2. In this scenario the people who meet already know the other members of the group, often very well as they have all been attending at the same location for some time.
Example: Local groups can be found on this BNI networking events London website.
The group meets regularly to update each other with progress in their business and to inform the group about the type of business that they are looking for. The aim of the group is not to find a potential client among the other members of the group – it is to educate these members so that they go out of their way to find business for you! In this way the group becomes your marketing team and when they meet, they pass referrals (business leads) to each other.
Often groups like this are highly structured, with strict membership rules, attendance rules and guidelines on how the meeting are to be run. They are not for everyone because they impose conformance on the group. But results can be spectacular. As with all things, if you follow and work the system you will get good results. For network groups within the BNI network the average amount of business generated for each group member each year is approximately £30,000.
- You have a large team who actively look for opportunities for you
- Great opportunity to build longer term business relationships and friendships
- Good return on investment. If you find the right group it can generate revenue
- Fixed meeting times and locations
- Structured meetings with a pre-defined agenda
- Early morning breakfast is the most common time to meet
Top Tip: An organisation like BNI run many hundreds of small network groups across London, but not all groups are made equal. Contact us to find our recommendation for the best group for you. We know many of the groups and can point you in the direction of one that will be most effective for you.
For more information on finding your local BNI group can be found using this link:
Type 4 Networking Events: Specialist Groups
There are as many different types of small groups, these are probably the most diverse but can be very effective as a way to generate business. These groups tend to be targeted towards one particular demographic or a specific business sector. For example there may be a network group targeted at the legal profession or another focused on female entrepreneurs.
Example: The Athena Network for Women
The groups tend to be smaller, by definition they are a subset of a subset, but if you fit into the group niche then they can be a powerful way to find new business or to strike up strategic alliances.
Networking Is Not All About Finding New Business
There are many reasons to join a networking group in London and not all of them relate to finding new clients or new business in the capital. Many business owners use the groups to find suppliers, partners or business advisors. Many people use it as a way to build friendships amongst a group of experienced business professionals. It is often the case that the benefit that comes from business networking using these techniques outweighs the value from direct sales. Always be open to the possibility of working with others to expand your network.
Looking For Suppliers?
If you joined the group trying to find new business, you should not be surprised if some businesses are looking for suppliers, otherwise there would be no opportunity to do any business at all! If you need a new product or service then use the facilities of the business network to help you narrow down your search. Ask other business owners that you know and trust for their advice about other people within the group. Remember that another person’s experience in the form of feedback or testimonial is going to be much more powerful than the marketing message that you will be getting directly from the supplier themselves. Then use the web to look for other reviews from other clients to backup your initial feedback before making a decision.
Looking For Partners?
One of the most effective ways to increase your reach as a business is through an effective partner strategy. Finding other companies who work with similar clients whilst offering complimentary services is a great way to find new business. If you can structure a deal where you partners can profit from reselling your services or you to resell theirs then everyone will win.
It is often the case that partner deals are much easier to find and set-up via the business network than direct new sales. Remember that not everyone is looking to buy your services right now, but most companies are looking for ways to expand and a partner deal is often a win-win that can be agreed without major negotiations.
Looking For A Business Advisor, Mentor or Coach?
It can be a lonely job being the one in charge. The business network infrastructure can provide a support framework that can help you with strategic and tactical advice on your business. This can take the form of formal business coaching or mentoring, informal advice and help from fellow members or discussion forums run by the event organisers.
To Join Or Not To Join?
With so much choice it can be very confusing. The important thing is that you should not make any quick decisions. The vast majority of groups will allow you to attend at least twice before making a decision. Spend a month or two attending lots of different groups. After each group make some quick notes on your impressions. Remember that once you have been to a few, then will all seem the same and it’s difficult to try to remember the good from the bad.
At the end of the period join one group and one group only. Spend a lot of time working to make the networking successful. Do not join many different groups, all at once. You will not be able to attend all the events and you will not get the full benefit out of your networking efforts.
How To Give An Elevator Pitch – The Perfect Sixty Seconds
Many groups will ask you to introduce yourself to the other members of the group when you become a new member. Other groups, like BNI will ask you to make regular presentations about yourself and your business. This can be very worrying as most people are not at all comfortable speaking in public. The trick is to put some structure behind your talk and practice beforehand. Here is an outline for a simple 60 second talk:
- Introduction: Your name, your job title and the name of the company you work for
- Your business. What is it that your company does? Specifically what benefits does it provide to its customers? So you would not only say that you are an accountant, you might say that you help individuals minimise the amount of personal tax that they have to pay
- A story (very short). Give an example of how you helped a client recently. One or two sentences only here
- Tell people what you are looking for. Be very specific. This focuses people’s minds on how they might be able to help you
- Repeat your name and company
How To Get The Most From a Networking Event In London
Let’s look now at some tips to get the most out of any network event.
Networking events are a great way to get you in front of other business owners which might need your products or services or (even better) might know a lot of other people, through their own network, who might be interested. But to get the most out of any event you need to plan ahead.
Firstly it’s important to know when the most important events are scheduled to happen and make sure you keep your diary free. We can help you with that by letting you know of key networking events in London, as they are announced.
Secondly you need to put a plan together to approach the event in the right way, so that it is effective for you. Otherwise you can spend all of your time talking to the wrong people and miss a potential great opportunity. Here are some top tips:
- Try to research the group beforehand and identify people or companies that you want to talk to. Make a list and refer to it during the event
- Always listen first and then offer to help. Nobody wants to hear a sales pitch, so if you can go out of your way to help someone, you will stand out and will have a better chance of a follow up meeting
- Don’t sell – just try to arrange a meeting. If you think that there is an opportunity to do business with someone, don’t push too hard. It’s very unlikely that you will be able to close a deal over a glass of wine on a first meeting. Arrange for a follow up meeting
- Keep moving! Don’t spend all of your time with one or two people. After you have arranged to meet someone, be polite and move on. Try to get as much benefit from the group as possible
- Help people first. If you attend the event with the attitude that you are going to try to help as many people as you can, you will find that the way you approach a conversation is completely different and you will be seen as someone who can be trusted. Remember: The more people you help, the more people are likely to help you
Top Tip: To drink or not to drink? Many events provide ‘free’ wine or beer as part of your membership. The event organisers do this to attract members and to help people relax. It is not a bad thing to drink a glass of wine, but do not use the event as an excuse to consume lots of alcohol. It will not help your reputation and will make it more difficult for you to follow a structured plan to network effectively. If you would like to take advantage of the drinks, then maybe a good strategy would be to limit your drinking to the last quarter of the event.
If you want to learn more then here are some links to some relevant articles that you might find interesting:
- How to succeed at business networking events in London
- Talk Sell later: Raising cred in networking events in London
- Be social: Three secrets to enjoy networking events in London
- Putting the best foot forward: Attending networking events in London
- Tips on how to get the most out of attending London networking events