Despite all of the tools the modern entrepreneur has at his or her disposal in the digital age, there is still one old business trick that has always stood the test of time – networking. And we mean real networking, as in face-to-face, shaking hands. Face-to-face networking not only helps you expand your contacts, but it’s also a good way to keep up on your industry and raise your profile (read build your “personal brand”) – something every entrepreneur needs to be doing.
But of course the main goal is to get new leads. It’s a very good feeling indeed to walk away from a networking event having secured a new contact who has an actual present need for the products or services you offer. While that is unlikely to happen every time, what is likely to happen more often than not is that you will meet new people that you click with, and some of those individuals are going to be a in position to either benefit from your products or services at some point in the future or recommend you to one of their friends or colleagues or contacts who will have a need.
So the key takeaway upfront is that you have to get out there. Networking is a skill that needs to be developed just like any other business skill, and the more you do it, the better you will get at it. And it is no doubt a numbers game, meaning the more events you attend, the better your odds.
Let’s now take a look at a few essential tips for making the most of your networking.
Tip 1: Be methodical
When you consider that 85% of business around the world is gained by word of mouth – and Dubai may well be the social capital of the world – mixing business and pleasure will play a big part in your success over here. There are countless networking events to choose from on any given day in Dubai, so be organized about it. Identify your preferred events and keep a tight database of those you meet.
For best results, be sure to have a clear idea of what exactly it is you are looking to achieve – whether it’s simply gathering information, meeting new people who may be helpful in some way to your business, or proactively canvassing for new clients and customers.
On that note, keep in mind that structured professional networking events are largely attended by sellers, not buyers. So, while they may be a great way to make some new friends – particularly with fellow startup entrepreneurs who can often be a valuable source of support and advice – it’s unlikely your next big multi-million dollar client has turned up and is just waiting to break out their chequebook. Just be realistic and remember that the journey to any client through a networking event is likely to be a roundabout one.
85% of business around the world is gained by word of mouth
Tip 2: Think social, not just professional
Don’t feel like you can only network in professional or dedicated business events and surroundings. There is no substitute for getting out there and meeting people in the ‘real world’. Dubai is brimming with business people, so whether you’re grabbing a coffee, out with mutual friends, or attending any sort of social event, it’s vital you take every possible opportunity to make new connections. Any serial networker will tell you in fact that it is those purely social events where the best business contacts are eventually made.
While the old cliché “It’s not what you know but who you know” may only be half right, that second part could not be more true in Dubai. New startups live and die by their connections, and the more people you know, the more mutual connections you create, and so on. So find out where your industry’s influencers associate and get mingling. Just be warned that this takes time, money and enthusiasm, so it will be a lot easier if you already enjoy the social side of life!
Tip 3: Ask the right questions – and listen to the answers
Before getting out there and boosting your contacts, it’s important to know exactly what you want to say. Firstly, prepare a short “pitch” about you and your business, should anyone ask for an overview. Also, make sure you are prepared with a set of questions to ensure you leave each interaction armed with the information you need and are never stuck for something to say.
Important: Just make it all sound natural. It should not actually sound like a pitch or a practiced answer.
Keep in mind that successful networking is all about being genuine and authentic, and your ultimate goal is first and foremost to build relationships, not to give people the hard sell. Yes you need to promote your business, but do it naturally, in a personable way – and remember to take an interest in the person you’re talking to rather than just making your pitch. This makes those you speak to feel valued and relaxed, and they will then not only be more inclined to connect with you, but they’ll be more likely to introduce you to others too.
Being a good socialiser does take practice, and there is no harm in reading a few books on how to get good at it. It’s a skill like any other, but one that will serve you very well in today’s world where there is such a blurred line between business chat and social chat.
Tip 4: Keep it up
The key to successful networking is to do it well and do it often. You need to be seen, and regularly attending social or professional networking events gets you and your business out there. The more ubiquitous you become with your industry scene, the more likely you are to pop into people’s heads later on. What’s more, by being seen in the right places and talking to the right people, you’ll soon build up a reputation as a knowledgeable, trusted and respected member of the business community, which is invaluable for a young startup.
And remember to always follow up. Networking is absolutely the beginning of the conversation, not the end, so always ask for the best way to stay in touch once your conversation has ended. Set aside some time in your diary each week to review your new contacts, make follow-up calls, or set reminders for actions that may be required further down the line.
Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert (or somewhere in between), if you are the type who says you do not enjoy business networking, you have to find out how to change that mindset. It is rather easy to stand in the corner with people you already know, but that will not help you much. Remember that most of us want to meet new and interesting people, and while your job is not to click with everyone, it is your job to find those that you do click with.
It takes between 7 and 12 impressions for a business to become “top of mind” with a new contact
Also keep in mind that the path to new clients is not usually a short one, with estimates suggesting it takes between seven and 12 impressions for a business (that is, yours) to become “top of mind” with a new contact. So if you do not find a way to make this type of networking – or rather “socialising” – fun, then those seven to 12 impressions you have to make are going to feel like a lot of work.
The best salespeople and networkers I know are both fearless and amicable. They do not see themselves as bothering anyone, and they just can’t wait to meet new people and hear their story – and also tell their own. That is what it is about. Structured, random, and unpredictable, it is hard work that tends to work best when it does not feel like hard work – which will only be the case if you are actually enjoying it.
About the author
Neil Petch, Chairman at Virtugroup
With a history of business successes, Neil Petch is well known in the UAE and beyond as a visionary entrepreneur with a passion for helping others establish and grow their own businesses. Neil founded Virtuzone in 2009 and quickly established it as the region’s leading company formation expert, before launching Virtugroup, a holding company that has a wider mandate of supporting startups from establishment; to successful market entry; and all the way through to exit.