Your clients are all around you - you just haven't spoken to them yet.
You're getting your start up off the ground, plans are coming together, the products taking shape, you've mastered pricing and now it's just the small task of finding those clients. Many start ups are daunted by this final piece of the puzzle, but getting out there and building a network is easier than you think.
I've been there myself, working from a spare bedroom, frightened to dip a toe in the networking arena. First time you arrive at a network event, your head is filled with 'what should I say' 'who should I talk to' 'they all look like they know what they're doing'. Just remember, but trust me, it's never as daunting as you think.
Starting my business, I found myself at several formal business networking events, up early in the morning and having breakfast with complete strangers - I was in at the deep end. But I soon realised, these names, brands and businesses, they were all real people behind them. I've since been to numerous events, each with a different crowd, location and formality to find the right mix for me - go to different ones, see what they're like and see what works for you. If there's demand for a theme, location or format that doesn't already exist, why not create your own event, I did - and it helped my business grow.
I haven't been to formal networking meetings in years, but instead weave it into everyday business and personal life. Business is a big part of my day, so the dance class I go to, people at the gym, lady in the post office, even the dentist are all part of my wider network that have and continue to help me build my business. Think back to where your first customer came from - perhaps a friend? friends friend? Someone you know through your part time job. I've learnt that you meet clients in the most unusual of places - even at a roller disco.
- Once you've got your head aligned with getting you/your business out there, here's my top tips for business networking success:
- Remember that people buy from people. Be yourself, be honest and the real you at all times.
- You never know where your next employee, client or recommendation will come from, often the most unlikely places.
- Show an active interest in others, networking isn't a one way way street. Help others and they will help you.
- Don't sell, explain. Nobody likes to be sold to, explain what you do and give others the space to think and ask questions in their time.
- Do something unique, make people remember you - stand out.
- Have a single sentence explanation prepared of what you do, highlighting your USP.
- Always be armed with a business card or means to pass on contact details.
You'll soon find that the online world and the 'real' world soon come together. I use various social media platforms to grow and expand relationships with those I meet in real life. We're all busy, but if you can connect an offline conversation online you'll extend the reach and develop the connection. It means your easily on hand if someone needs you - and it's great to be able to put a face to the name.
Don't forget to relax - everyone gets nervous, but like anything else, the more you do it the more comfortable you'll be. Don't expect the phone to ring non stop overnight but you'll soon see your network build - enquiries and sales will then come from there. Given the festive season is now upon us, it's never been a better time to broaden your network. So go on, google that event you were thinking about, grab an invite to that dinner and make that eventbrite reservation - I dare you to do it. 'What do I say when I walk in?' Start with hello and a smile.
This blog was a feature with Cardiff Metrpolitan University. Find out more about Cardiff Metropolitan Univeristy and the great work they do to support entrepreneurs here