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How To Turn Your Networking Efforts Into Business Revenue

Forbes logo Forbes 10-08-2015 Alison Coleman, Contributor

To a lot of business people networking means one thing; putting in a lot of of time and money for what seems like little reward. Maybe they’re going about it in the wrong way?

There are plenty of ‘How to’ articles, practical tips, dos and don’ts out there, but many seem to focus more on networking niceties and etiquette rather than cutting to the chase and getting a business return on your investment of time.  So I asked a couple of entrepreneurs who’ve done it, how they did it.

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Lorraine Ashover, director of school procurement consultancy Minerva Procurement, turned a £250 ticket to an awards dinner into £12,000 of revenue for her business.

“I was on a table with nine other people, so I worked my way around the table, speaking to each one to find out more about them and their businesses and to see if there were any opportunities for Minerva,” she says.

One of them was the chairman of trustees of a learning trust, who during the course of their chat, let slip that their first foray into collaborative procurement, specifically around payroll and HR admin services, hadn’t gone well.  As a result the 28 school business managers in the group were now extremely sceptical of the benefits.

“The services provider was a competitor of mine, and based on my knowledge of their business model, I knew exactly why the project hadn’t worked,” said Ashover.

But instead of focusing on that, she went on to described a major success that Minerva had achieved with a larger group of 34 schools, for the exact same budget and category of payroll and HR admin. Interest piqued, the chairman asked her to email him some details, which she did the next day.

From there Ashover was asked to attend a conference call with the leader of the trust and then present to the 28 school business managers, who agreed to try Minerva for one project.  

The result

Almost £12,500 of revenue generated from the first project, and discussions underway for a second. Potential revenue could exceed £50,000 over the duration of the relationship.  

The clincher

Having a relevant case study success to share, a consistent follow up and being patient that a large group decision like that doesn’t happen overnight.

The advice

“Be prepared to kiss frogs to get to your Prince!” Ashover spoke to eight other people that evening before meeting the chairman of trustees.

Another key element of a winning networking game plan is to find out in advance who your fellow attendees will be, a strategy that has worked for Chris Leighton, director of a flexible work solutions provider Availexe.

“The key variables are ‘sector, size of business, and seniority of attendee’, and the more you know, the better prepared you can be,” he says.

With that information in hand, a recent evening networking event aimed at bringing different businesses together, brought Leighton in contact with someone from a finance firm and ultimately to a contract to supply a marketing consultant for a specific piece of work.

As he points out, a targeted approach to networking also requires a swift follow up technique.

“I always follow up with new connections within 24 hours, either through LinkedIn, or if we discussed a specific opportunity by email to confirm what we discussed, says Leighton.

In this particular case the two met twice after the networking event to agree the scope for the project, signing the contract at the second meeting just two weeks later.

The result

The initial contract was worth around £5,000. However this is a new client, and Leighton estimates that the customer lifetime value is 10 or 20 times that figure.

The clincher

Hitting it off with the target contact from the outset, listening to their current work issues and offering a solution there and then.

The advice

Get an attendee list, and even if you don’t get to meet who you want to at the event, follow up quickly with an introductory e-mail afterwards.

And if you really want to increase your chances of bagging some new business on the back of your networking efforts, Heather Townsend, author of ‘The FT Guide To Business Networking’ and ‘The Go-To Expert’ has this advice.

She says: “Only turn up to events where you have already contacted and confirmed that you will talk to people who could give you business, that means prospects you have been targeting or well-placed introducers. And only network at events where the vast majority of attendees could become a client

“Use your 60-second pitch to ask for specific introductions to specific individuals. For example, I would like to be introduced to the HR director of company X, rather than ‘I’d like to meet anyone who will be moving house in the next three months.’”

 

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