Business networking – the ultimate guide for beginners [2023]

If you haven’t dipped your toe into business networking yet, here’s your guide to getting started and enjoying the huge benefits that this number one marketing tactic can provide.

If you have started your own business but haven’t tried a networking meeting yet, that could be for a range of reasons.

Maybe you don’t think it will bring you results quickly enough.

Perhaps you’re nervous about it and struggle with social anxiety.

You may not have found a group that you feel would suit you and your business.

Or it’s possible you feel that you’re not quite ready to start networking yet.

Whatever the reason, we’re here to help make sure your first forays into business networking are fun and a productive use of your time!

Given that we now run our own business networking meetings at The Corporate Escape Club, some people probably find it difficult to believe that I really struggled with networking.

I’m naturally a shy, introvert and would certainly not have sought out an anxiety inducing experience like a networking event to help promote my business from the get-go! I was far more interested in digital marketing techniques, which meant I didn’t need to meet anyone in person!

But very soon after I started my business around 2007 I saw an advert for a local event where a PR expert was going to give a talk. Interested in finding out how I could use PR to promote my services, I very nervously decided I would go – but only to learn something new.

Little did I realise that the talk was being offered as part of a local networking event for women, so imagine my horror when soon after I arrived we all had to stand in a circle and introduce ourselves and our businesses in 60 seconds!

I honestly wanted to run away, but I couldn’t escape as the group circled around me and I just had to do what I could to describe my embryonic business and how I could help people.

I have no recollection of what I said and apart from the PR talk given by a lady who would later meet me for coffee and help with all sorts of advice, the rest of the event went badly for me.  Someone even questioned the name I’d given my company, and I headed home, deciding that I’d been mad to think I could run my own business and that I should give the whole idea up.

I don’t tell you this story to put you off business networking!  If I’d had some sort of idea of what to expect, the whole thing would have been far more enjoyable, so this article is designed to help you prepare for business networking and enter this world with a little more confidence than you might otherwise feel.

Since this terrifying first experience of networking, I’ve probably attended hundreds of networking meetings.  

Every. single. time. I decide at the last minute that I don’t want to do it.  I believe I am far too busy and that familiar sinking, shrinking feeling makes me want to cancel. Fortunately, I met my business partner – and networking queen – Emma Tarring at a business networking meeting for women in 2012, and she now often makes me (kindly) do it anyway.

There have been many times when I have stood at the bottom of the stairs leading to a meeting room and said ‘let’s just go and have dinner instead!’ but she just rolls her eyes and says ‘come on’ and we go to the event and I always end up enjoying it and saying ‘we should do this more often!’ Hilarious!

As a result of my own anxiety around business networking meetings, I am extremely keen to make sure our own meetings are friendly, welcoming and well-structured.

We organise them in a way – we hope – that makes them manageable for even the most nervous people, but that’s not always the case for every business networking group, which may be run by someone who’s a complete extrovert and doesn’t understand why anyone would be unsure about it! So this guide is here to help you survive any meeting, no matter how unprepared you might feel.

But first, why bother at all with business networking meetings?

Well, particularly for B2B consultants and coaches, the way to win premium contracts from people you love working with is through nurturing business relationships.  The work we do requires our clients to put a huge amount of trust in us and that can only be earned through regular contact and in person conversations.

So you’re right, networking is not the fastest way to win business contracts, but it is one of the most reliable and usually results in good quality work from people who understand and value our services. So while you may need to invest time even up to a year before you see tangible results, it’s worth it for all the side-benefits networking will bring you in the meantime.

These include:

Meeting other business owners on the same journey you are.  The support and friendship you can find in these kinds of groups is massively valuable when you work alone.

Finding clarity in your messaging.  Describing what you do and seeing the real time response from the person you’re speaking to helps you refine and define your offer.

Learning from others. As you get to know other people who have been running their own show for longer or who give a talk about a subject they are an expert in, you will learn new skills and perspectives that will help you grow your own business.

So how can you make the most of business networking and make it as enjoyable as possible?!

Here are our top tips:

Don’t wait until you’re ready.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with rocking up to a local group meeting, saying you’re still working on your business proposition and thought you’d come along and meet other business owners who are successfully running their own business.  

Our group – The Corporate Escape Club – actively welcomes corporate escapees who are still working on nailing their niche.  In fact, helping with this is one of our ‘business genius zones’, we can probably see the business in you more easily than you can!

Most groups of course expect you to have a clear proposition as that makes it far easier for the other attendees to refer you and work with you, but only the least friendly will have a problem if you are not quite there yet – and if they do – that’s not the group for you, so move on!

Get a recommendation. If you’re not sure which group to visit, ask your current network to recommend friendly local groups that will help you get started.  Each meeting has a different vibe and not all will suit you. , but if you try enough meetings in your local area, you’re sure to find two or three that welcome you and help you feel at ease.

Whatever you do, don’t assume that all networking groups are the same. I have attended some very cliquey groups and others that have welcomed me with open arms.  Keep trying until you find a group that suits you.

Do a little work on your proposition.  If you want to feel a bit more prepared, then it’s useful to have your ‘captivating one-liner’ ready to deploy, even if it’s not quite perfect yet.

Most groups will ask you to present your business in a 60 second or less pitch format or will invite you to briefly introduce yourself.  

No one enjoys listening to someone wax lyrical about their business for minutes on end.  Those who do are taking time from the other attendees and will usually lose their audience after the first minute – so keep your ‘pitch’ short, sweet and to the point. 

Take some time crafting a short and interesting introduction and don’t worry if you need to write it down.  You’ll get more used to speaking without needing a prompt with experience, but having one is better than completely losing the plot halfway through your 60 seconds like I did once!

A useful framework for your introduction follows a format something like this: Hi! I’m [name] and I help [ideal client description] achieve / get [desired outcome] without [their least favourite thing] with my [your service / product / programme].

Make this entirely your own, but always clearly identify who you help and the desired outcome you help them achieve and try not to spend too much time talking about how you do it.  If you need any help with this, let us know!

Bring a prop! If you’re nervous about speaking in front of a group, bringing a prop with you can help ease your nerves.  It adds interest to your intro and will help make you memorable, even if they don’t remember what you said.  Just make sure it’s relevant and illustrates what you do without needing to ‘work’. There’s nothing worse than having a prop that falls apart or fails to do the thing it needs to do when you’re under pressure!

Bring business cards.  Lots of people think business cards are old hat now, but we disagree 100%! Giving someone a well-designed, tangible card is so much more effective than just connecting with them on LinkedIn or putting your details into their phone using a QR code.

The whole point of marketing is to help you stand out and be remembered against the competition.  A card with your photo, a description of how you help, and your contact details will stay in someone’s memory far longer than any digital first contact will.

But don’t let not having a card stop you! You might meet the graphic designer or printer you need at your next meeting, so don’t worry if you don’t have cards to hand straight away.

Don’t expect to win business at your first meeting. I once asked someone if they enjoyed our meeting and they said ‘Yes, I didn’t get any business but I enjoyed the meeting.’ This made me feel very sad for them. 

If you attend B2B business networking meetings with the expectation of winning business straight away, you will always be disappointed because that is just not how B2B works and neither should it.

Trust takes time to build.

B2B networking meetings are not shops where people can buy low-cost tangible products. It’s a coming together of people with similar backgrounds and corporate experiences with the intention of helping each other do business.  

Think instead about how you can help the other attendees. 

Who can you refer or introduce someone to? Who could you have a follow-up conversation with just to get to know them better? Who could you collaborate or join forces with to win a mutually beneficial contract? 

Giving leads to getting, so enter the room with that mindset and you’ll achieve your own business goals much faster.

Connect with the people you meet on LinkedIn afterwards.  Once you’ve met people in person and swapped cards, do follow-up by connecting with them on LinkedIn too.  That way you can keep in touch and start work building an even deeper connection through your posts and engaging with theirs.

Ask great questions. Most meetings start with open networking over coffee or drinks, and if you’re wondering what on earth you’ll say to the new people you’ll meet, you’re not alone.  

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to overcome nerves, and that’s to be prepared with some powerful questions.  Asking people about themselves is a great way to get to know them and deflect attention from yourself until you’re ready. So here are a few questions to have up your sleeve:

  • Hi, I’m [name] what do you do?
  • How long have you been running your own business?
  • How did you get into [their business service]?
  • What’s been your biggest challenge?
  • What’s your top tip for running your own business?
  • I’m new here, is there anyone you could introduce me to?

Challenge yourself.  Set an achievable objective for each meeting and allow yourself to feel you’ve been successful once you have achieved it.  Some meetings have a formal structure, whereas others are more fluid so adapt your challenge to the meeting you find yourself. Challenges could include:

  • Showing up! And by this I mean going into the actual meeting, not just sitting in the car park like I’m often tempted to!
  • Talking to at least 2 new people. Even if this is just the organiser and the coffee server!
  • Contributing one thought. Some meetings throw a question to the group or open up a discussion.
  • Following up with an invitation to have coffee with at least one person. This is where the true power of networking lies.

Be open to possibilities. Little did I realise that I would meet my future business partner at a networking meeting!  The possibility was certainly not on my radar, but as a result of a chance encounter with someone I thought was my competitor and being open to having a coffee, we found that we had complimentary skills and potential leads that we would have more chance of winning together than as solo consultants.  

Our consultancy – The Marketing Matrix was born on Emma’s kitchen table in 2012 and we’ve won many of our contracts as a direct result of attending networking meetings ever since.

That’s why we started The Corporate Escape Club in 2021. Our business networking meetings are designed to help professionals who have escaped corporate – or who are thinking about escaping – to start their own b2b consultancy or coaching business and win premium contracts from clients they love working with.

Whether you’re ready or not, we will introduce you to fellow escapees for 1:1 conversations to help you expand your network and we’ll provide a marketing nugget to help you create and grow your business confidently too.

Our local meetings are in person at our Boathouse by the river in Walton-on-Thames and our national meetings are on Zoom.  You will receive a warm welcome whichever meeting you attend, so book your spot here.

We hope these tips will help you start networking with more confidence and understanding of what to expect.  

We highly recommend you dive in and start business networking as soon as you can. It’s one of the most reliable ways to find new clients, and we’d love to help you create and grow your business with the Corporate Escape Club!