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  • Business Networking: top 10 tips

    Labyrinth’s MD, Founder of Women in Logistics UK and networker extraordinaire Ruth Waring shares her top ten tips for fabulous networking. Read on to find out how she does it…. Networking comes naturally to a lucky few, but most people struggle with it, and I was as daunted as anyone else when I first went self-employed in 2002 and realised I had to get myself “out there” – I was used to buying rather than selling. Eight years later I can honestly say I have learned to enjoy it and have taught myself to become really good at it, and just having had a busy 18 months in the business in the midst of a recession, I must be doing something right.

    The good news is that networking is something anyone can learn to do well. Even if you feel you will never enjoy it you don’t have to be rubbish at it, and the better you get, the more results you will see from networking – and you might event start to relax and have a good time. Here are my top tips:

    1. Have a networking strategy
    2. Remember, you’re not necessarily networking with the person in front of you
    3. Approach people on their own
    4. Really hone your elevator pitch
    5. Be clear what you want out of each event
    6. Try speed networking
    7. Always Be Networking
    8. Offer to help the other person
    9. Follow up
    10. Join Women in Logistics UK!

    1. Have a networking strategy

    Don’t wander along going to an occasional networking event feeling worried and out of place. If you are serious about winning clients you need to be out there, and practice makes perfect. Formulate a strategy and plan ahead for the next six months. Think about the type of person you are trying to reach. If your target market is logistics buyers, it’s no good networking with florists and homeopaths at your local breakfast networking event. You need to think where logistics buyers might go – perhaps to a CILT event about how to add value through logistics procurement, or events run by CIPS – so find out about relevant events. You could even volunteer to run a networking event with fabulous speakers and try to attract just the audience you’d like to meet – as my colleague Jo Godsmark did recently with fabulous results. If your target market is manufacturers and retailers, you may meet them through the Chamber of Commerce in your nearest city, of at the IGD events (Institute of Grocery Distribution). The point is, you need to structure your networking to hit your target audience, and plan to attend so many events a month; about two is ideal. It’s fine to mix it up with some local networking too if you find you enjoy this more, as this will give you networking confidence when you go to industry events, and can help you find good local suppliers you can trust. There are a lot of networking events out there, so do your research and visit a few different ones before deciding what is going to work for you.

    2. Remember, you’re not necessarily networking with the person in front of you

    Having said you need a targeted strategy, you need not despair if you find yourself networking with a butcher with halitosis and one shop in the village high street. It is vital to remember that you can network with their network – the people they know – if you ask the right questions. Your butcher’s cousin might be the MD of your main target customer – you just have to tell him that you’d love to meet anyone from XYZ Fork Lift Trucks (or any other prominent local employer you’d like to do business with) and wait for the contacts to roll in. Well, hopefully! The key is having prepared a mental list of local companies you’d love to get into, so if you are struggling for common ground, you can just ask for contacts there. It is surprising what is offered – the more specific you can be, the better. Also try the line “A good lead for me would be anyone with lorries going in and out of the gate” – they can visualise this and might get some ideas. Don’t say “I’m a logistics consultant and I offer help with O Licence compliance and ISO” because the person will be asleep before you have finished the sentence. Sentences that start “Do you know any one who…?” can be very powerful.

    3. Approach people on their own

    One of the scariest aspects of networking is the “milling about” phase, where everyone arrives in dribs and drabs, gets a coffee and looks for someone to talk to.  I always hated this bit, feeling panicky that I was supposed to be working the room like a pro, but in fact was hovering by the biscuits trying not to stuff TOO many into my mouth in a nervous feeding frenzy. I have now turned this period into networking gold by picking off all the people standing on their own. They are always really grateful to talk to someone, and even the pricklier customers are glad someone has rescued them. A simple “ Do you mind if I join you?” normally works. This can be a bit tricky for me as some men sort of recoil, thinking you are trying to pick them up. I mean, what are the chances? Have you been to a Road Haulage Association event? Well then. I have however come to accept that at certain industry events some people just don’t want to talk to you. I mean me. This is most likely to happen where the people don’t get out much, such as the Fork Lift Truck Safety conference I attended recently. Use your imagination.

    4. Really hone your “elevator” pitch

    The “elevator” pitch is the line you would use to introduce your business if you found yourself in the elevator with the CEO of your dream customer. You’ve only got 30 seconds to capture their imagination and tell them what you do. So a good example is: “Hi, my name’s Ruth Waring and I am the MD of Labyrinth Logistics Consulting Ltd. I help hauliers - and those who use hauliers - work safely and legally. I also help companies save money on their transport costs. Our customers range from family haulage operators to major blue-chip clients and would love to add you to that list. Could I contact you to tell you more?” Really think about this pitch, as it will often be your intro at a networking event. Don’t flounder around looking for a form of words when the killer contact is in front of you – learn it! If you go to breakfast events, you’ll normally be asked to do a one minute slot about your business so make sure you prepare it in advance. Try not to read it from a script, head-down, but learn it and speak clearly. Good one minute slots are rare and people notice a polished performance.

    5. Be clear what you want out of each event

    Try to avoid coming away from events with no cards having had only a few vague conversations.Think about the outcomes you want before you go, get yourself psyched up into the right mood, and make sure you have business cards (and flyers if you do these). Mel Ashworth from First Class Coaching, who attended a speed networking event I ran recently, said that she tries to get 5 new cards at each event. This prevents her from entering a sort of networking torpor, where she meets someone she likes and stays talking to them for the whole time. If you like someone, arrange to get in touch and have a one-to-one meeting after the networking event – but the event itself is not for lengthy chats. It’s about meeting new people and making connections. Similarly if you go with a colleague make a pact to split up and sit at different tables, or talk to different people. If you get a list of attendees beforehand (and remember, the organisers can only say no if you ask – I frequently do!) why not split up those people you both want to target, to avoid overlap?

    6. Try speed networking

    No, it’s not the same as speed dating.It can be a really effective way of meeting a lot of people quickly. As with other forms of networking, planning is the key. Rehearse your two minute slot in front of the mirror and time yourself. It’s easy to ramble on – but you have two minutes when the other person has to listen to you! Try to gauge on the day if they know anything at all about what you do, and if you think they will understand them you can use a bit of jargon or some 3 letter acronyms – but generally assume that they will know nothing and go back to basics (especially if it’s not logistics people you’re talking to). Use words that a 12 year old child could understand. At a recent event one delegate pointed out five lots of jargon she hadn’t understood in one short presentation. Don’t make people feel thick. I struggle to remember that SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation so why should an IT guy know what JIT stands for in automotive logistics?

    7. Always Be Networking

    Networking doesn’t have to be done in a formal situation. Don’t forget that mums and dads at school might be an excellent source of leads for you, so make sure they know about your business. Your gym might be another way to meet local business-people who would love to hear about your business. If they are interested, don’t bore them when they are trapped on the treadmill for 20 minutes, but offer to contact them and set up a short meeting (“can I pop in for a coffee and tell you more?”. I always try to remember names and company details so I can Google them later, or ask if you can contact them via linkedin, the professional networking site.

    8. Offer to help the other person

    It sounds really obvious, but remember the person you are talking to may be struggling and a bit tongue-tied. Why not ask them how you can help them? Questions such as “What would be your ideal customer – and how can I help you find them?” or “What kind of leads can I help you with – I might know some people you’d like to meet?” are good ice-breakers. They may or may not reciprocate, but at least you have tried.

    9. Follow up

    Follow up is vital – all the rest of it hinges on how well you follow up after an event. It’s a good idea to have a database of all the people you meet at networking events (we have ours on an internet-based web office so everyone with a log-in can search for companies and people others have met). It’s worth taking the time to record when and where you met them, as this can prove useful later and you can really impress them with your “memory”. You can then use this tool to send them newsletters and updates if you think they will be interested. Once the details are on the database, you need to decide what you’re going to do next – ask them for a meeting? Only do this if there was some sort of spark or you have something specific to tell them about, otherwise you’re just wasting time. If the person offered to put you in touch with someone else, make it as easy as possible for them by sending the working of an email they can “top and tail” and forward on – they are much more likely to do it then. Another option and good half-way house is to ask the person you met to connect with you on linkedin (www.linkedin.com) so you’ll have their contact details.  It’s also a good idea to keep a log of any work you win from networking and other methods you use, so you can gauge if it is working.

    10. Join Women in Logistics UK – networking as it should be!

    It’s the friendliest logistics network around. In fact it’s so friendly I find most other logistics industry events a bit frosty now. I set up the group in September 2008 and we now have over 1100 members, with numbers going up every day. About 18% of members are men who want to support women working in logistics. We organise 5 events a year (all with networking opportunities) and also have piggyback networking sessions during other industry events such as Multimodal and the CILT annual dinner. The great news is that the group is free to join, thanks to the work of all the volunteer steering committee members who make them happen, and most events are free to attend too. There is more information about upcoming events at www.womeninlogistics.org.uk/events.html.  Why not join us for an event.

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