After four glorious years as chairman of the Norwich Business Women’s Network, I am still challenged by those who cannot see the point of networking per se.

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If you fail to embrace the reasons why networking is great for business I would say that you are not only missing the point, but also missing out on business.

It is true that networking takes time, money and effort. The problem for networking naysayers is that the tangible benefits are perceived as hard to quantify.

I started networking in earnest when I moved to Norfolk in 1998. As a ‘foreigner’ I faced the double challenge of promoting myself and my department. Fifteen years ago the world looked very different; social media was in its infancy, websites were a static brochure and the legal profession was shy of advertising.

My task was to build a family law department; I needed to let my potential clients know that I had the skills to help if they found themselves in the unfortunate situation of needing a family lawyer – but how?

Working on the principle that people buy people first, I started networking and by this I mean I put a human face to a sensitive service. I came out from behind my desk and met people. I focused on engaging with those that would benefit from being able to recommend a reliable family lawyer to their clients.

There’s an awful lot written about how to make the most of networking – but the key to effective networking is to embrace every opportunity to meet with others who can benefit from your particular brand of expertise.

There are two fundamental things that you can do to develop your business and build your network.

Firstly ask yourself how you can generate the right impact and create a good impression?

Also, think about why anyone should choose you and your product/service, over and above all others and how you can best express it.

The market place has never been more competitive. Have you heard of the elevator speech? Well it works. An elevator speech should include who you are, what you do and your USP.

Ask yourself if you are the best, oldest, newest, most innovative, cheapest, fastest – what is it that makes you stand out from the crowd? We all have a ‘hook’ something that makes us unique – remember to mention yours.

Secondly, know who you want to talk to; great networkers know their niche market. What challenges can you solve – who would benefit from talking to you? Look at the delegate list and decide who you want to talk to in advance but always remember that it takes two to tango and listening is just important as talking – two ears and one mouth was never so true.

I would argue that our desire to make contact, to share experiences and to build relationships; beautifully evidenced by the explosion of social media, is only enhanced and underpinned by meeting up in person.

Moreover you don’t necessarily need the formality of a networking event to share ideas, exchange views, learn best practice and above all build lasting and fruitful relationships. Networking is a cost effective way of generating new business, but it can also be fun and hugely rewarding personally.

Mary-Jane Kingsland is a business coach

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