Business Basics: How to network effectively as an owner

29 June 2020

Whatever the sector, networking remains a powerful way to open new doors and sow the seeds of a successful partnership. This Business Basics Q&A can show you how to get it right.

Business Basics is an interview series which arms business professionals with actionable insights and advice they can use to grow and develop themselves or their business. Each month, we talk to an industry expert about the latest business topics and trends – giving you a unique perspective on everything from developing leadership skills to building a website.

In this edition, we’re talking all things networking with Robert Hana, co-founder of Augusta, the UK’s largest litigation finance specialists. With over 20 years’ experience in the hedge fund industry, and an MBA from the Cranfield School of Management, Robert is no stranger to the power of networking, and was kind enough to share his knowledge and expertise with us.

Read on for the complete Business Basics Q&A below.

In your view, how valuable is face-to-face networking compared to virtual networking via an online platform? And what do you think are the pros and cons of each?

Building personal networks is critical to developing business, and particularly so in the services sectors. A key part of this is listening – to both verbal and non-verbal signals.

Many of today’s business leaders will have learnt how to listen and build networks through face-to-face interactions. As a result, many of us have much to learn about how to do this on a screen, rather than in person.

But given that virtual interactions are the new normal, we all have to adapt. The convenience of being able to attend networking in various forms with clients online, without the costs and time of travel, are clear.

However, the risk in using online platforms is that it’s easy to get distracted – by responding to an email for example. The key is to remain focussed on your clients – pay attention and give them the respect they deserve.

business networking event

What types of partnerships, opportunities and benefits can business owners hope to gain from attending networking events? And how important is it that people network with a goal or objective in mind?

I’m a firm believer in building business networks without any ulterior motive. You never know when a connection you have made will become useful to either party. If you go into networking interactions with an open mind, and consider not what you want from someone, but how you can help them and what common ground there is, good things will eventually result.

This may not be tomorrow; it may be far further down the line. And it may not be a simple ‘sale’ of whatever your product or service is. It could be an introduction to someone who is a potential client, a joint marketing channel, or the opportunity to contribute to the community.

What are the key benefits, both direct and indirect, that business leaders can expect by taking the time to grow their networks?

Most businesses work on trust. When you are starting out with limited contacts in any particular industry, you are in need of credible supporters who can vouch for you or recommend you to others. When you invest time in building your network, you make connections who can introduce you to their contacts and in some circumstances, even recommend you as a trusted supplier.

The key is to dedicate effort to building networks, without expecting a short-term return. Offer help to your contacts and they will, in time, reciprocate. But don’t be afraid to ask for assistance when the time is right, especially if there is potential mutual benefit.

business owners networking

In what ways can business leaders maximise their exposure online, both to grow their network and get their products/services seen by the right people?

I believe it’s incredibly important to be visible online, now more than ever. Many people invest time in building their profiles on channels such as LinkedIn. I’ve certainly seen business enquiries result from this.

But it’s far more important in my view to have others talking you up, rather than doing it yourself. Being recognised as an industry commentator in the media, contributing quotes to stories, or writing articles yourself, is a great way of both being found online, and demonstrating you are an expert in your field.

In your view, what are the most valuable types of networking – be it attending conferences, growing LinkedIn followership or hosting seminars or industry events? And what steps should business owners take to ensure they’re gaining exposure across multiple platforms?

The world is changing. With the impact of the pandemic still to be fully understood, you need to be flexible in your approach to networking.

In the past, I would have stressed the importance of face-to-face interactions at conferences for example. In my view, it’s now even more important to understand where your target market ‘hangs out’, and to be present in those environments.

This will likely be a mix of business social media like LinkedIn, media outlets that your customers rely on, and your own channels e.g. websites. Where possible, being able to offer some insight, your own data or thought leadership, for example, is the best way of demonstrating you are the ‘go-to’ expert in your field.

online business networking

Which platforms, tools, resources or social channels would you recommend for businesses looking to grow their network and make valuable connections?

Industry-focussed platforms, in my experience, offer the best return on investment. Winning media coverage, for example, in the trade press for your sector, or the mainstream media business sections, is an excellent way of building your profile and encouraging inbound enquiries.

Following up on this type of coverage with social media activity, i.e. sharing details of your media appearances on LinkedIn, serves to ‘amplify’ the reach of any coverage your PR people gain for you.

When networking face-to-face, what information should business leaders be hoping to acquire from new connections? And what techniques and strategies can they use to coax value from such encounters?

In my view, listening is the most important thing in any face-to-face interaction. Understanding your contact’s situation and needs is the best way of building a relationship today and identifying if there are business opportunities tomorrow.

I ask a lot of questions – without being invasive – to get to the bottom of what the contact is struggling with, and to identify who in my network might be able to help. I try to make sure I leave each conversation with an action, something I can do for them, in order to cement the relationship.

business owner on linkedin

In your view, how much time should business leaders feasibly be spending on networking? This includes both online networking and attending face-to-face events?

Every business must decide how to face the market. In people-based businesses, it’s important to have leaders invest time in building networks. I devote a significant proportion of my time to facing the external market, whilst my partners typically focus on other equally valuable areas of the business.

Businesses need to decide what skills their people have and the best way of applying these to winning work and to managing operations. If building networks falls to you, being present in the market in whatever form your market requires and being available to clients is critical to developing and sustaining relationships.

We’d like to thank Robert for sharing his tips and experience of networking as a successful business founder. Below, here are a few suggestions on further reading within the Business Basics series:

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The views, opinions and positions expressed within this article are those of our third-party content providers alone and do not represent those of Gazprom Energy. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Gazprom Energy accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.

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