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The business of networking

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New business can be notoriously hard to come by in tough economic times. So it might be interesting to learn that, in some sectors at least, seven out ten pieces of new business are won by word of mouth recommendations.

Many business owners remain shy of social networking as a means of finding new customers, but it can be an invaluable route to extra customers and clients.

Not only can networking help a business spot new sales opportunities, it can also encourage the sharing of ideas and important information.

Of course, successful networking requires work and preparation, just like any other business strategy.

So before attending a forum or a seminar or a business exhibition or a trade lunch or any of the other and many events where businesses meet, commit to memory a short introduction to your business. Don’t make it too long or too formal and keep it conversational in tone. It is, however, also a sales pitch, so be sure to include as succinctly as possible the main points you want to get across about your business and why it may be useful to the person you are talking to.

Once at the event, don’t hog the conversation; ask questions that require more than one sentence answers as this will help you to learn more about the business contacts you are making.

If someone is interested in your business, they might well ask for a card. If they don’t, offer them a card at the end of the conversation.

If someone hands you a card, take the time afterwards to scribble a few notes about them and their business on the back of the card so you can add the details to your database.

It is important not to allow new contacts to grow cold. If you believe someone is interested in your business, send them an email every so often, picking up on the conversation you had with them and perhaps suggesting products or services they may find helpful.

There are, of course, non-face-to-face methods of networking. The internet is a marvellous means of establishing a whole range of contacts. This can be done through blogging, creating a message board on your website, providing firms that complement your own business with advertising space and setting up forums.

The better people know you, the more likely they are to become your customers.