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Advice

Forum Insight: 10 ways to succeed at networking events…

Walking into an event room full of people you don’t know can be a scary experience. However, there are proven ways to conquer this fear and make networking an enjoyable and a useful process to do business. Here, we share 10 of the best practices to eradicate those networking nerves.

  1. Plan ahead: Try to obtain the attendee list in advance and highlight the people you would like to meet. On arrival, contact the event organiser and say who you are trying to connect with. If they get the chance, an introduction between yourself and the other party will be made upon arrival. It might also be beneficial to go to the registration area to ask if one of your selected visitors has arrived.
  1. Get there early: If you are one of the first to arrive, it is much easier to strike up a conversation with a small group of people.
  1. Most people are in the same position: If you do not know anyone else attending, it’s good to prepare a few opening questions: ‘Any particular presentation you’re looking forward to hearing today?’; ‘What brought you to this event?’
  1. Join a group: Approaching a group of attendees already in full conversation is a daunting prospect. So be bold, confident, and simply ask: “May I join the conversation? I’ve just arrived and I’m keen to learn what’s going on.”
  1. Build interesting conversation: Ask topical and relevant questions to the specific event. Be a good listener and don’t dominate the conversation with your own stories and business ideas.
  1. Be helpful: Share your knowledge of the industry, your contacts and sources of information. If people perceive you as an experienced and knowledgeable professional, they will want to keep in contact and maintain a relationship.
  1. Use your business card as a tactical weapon: I have a friend who renovates old wooden floors, so his business card is made of a thin piece of wood and has proven to be a guaranteed conversation starter. Be imaginative with the design and the job title displayed. Anything that says ‘sales’ or ‘business development’ could cause people to fear a sales pitch is on the way. So try and think of a job title that encourages a productive conversation.
  1. Receiving business cards: Be sure to make notes on the back to remind you of the conversation and the person. This could become much use in future interactions.
  1. Following up: If you engaged in constructive conversation with an attendee and have agreed to follow up after the event, then set a preferred method of contact and make sure to do so promptly.
  1. What not to do: Sales pitches, even if you’re asked ‘what does your company do’, keep your answer to a very brief explanation. Don’t ‘work the room’ rushing from group to group as this is not the way to form business relationships. It’s better to have had four good conversations than a dozen meaningless chats.

 

Words by Paul Rowney, director at Forum Events Ltd.

Forum Insight: Savvy SEO tips for start-ups that won’t break the bank…

With 50 per cent of new businesses failing within five years, recent research has revealed that many small businesses are missing out on opportunities to market online due to a lack of digital knowledge.

The research from 123 Reg found that 73 per cent said they did not advertise online and 42 per cent reported having no digital presence. SEO and other terminology also stumped 48 per cent of business owners surveyed, and only 53 per cent said their websites were easily readable via a mobile device.

“Being digitally savvy is especially important for start-ups. It can be the difference between your business being seen in the right places by the right people, and even small changes can have a huge impact,” comments Alex Minchin, founder and director of SEO agency Zest Digital.

Here, Alex shares three instantly achievable tips for small businesses looking to get started with SEO:

  1. Sign up to Google Analytics and Google Search Console and add the necessary code to your website: These are two free tools that will enable you to measure performance, even if you don’t understand it all immediately. You cannot improve something that you’re not measuring, and these tools will measure things such as; the number of visitors landing on your website, the best performing content, keywords driving traffic, any broken links or pages, and the links from other websites that are pointing back to your website.
  2. Start local: Most searches in the micro and small business world include local modifiers such as your city or county, e.g. “Plumbers in Croydon”. An easy way to start to build some gravitas towards your website is to feature on business directories. This creates ‘citations’ (mentions) of your business name and confirms your address and other details, in addition to pointing a link back to your website. It’s crucial to make sure your information is kept consistent, so finalise your details and use the same information as a template for all directories. These things will help to increase the strength and trust of your website. Just be sure to focus on reputable directories such as Touch Local, 192, Freeindex, and Opendi for example.
  3. Focus on the real basics and design each META title and description for each of the key pages on your website as a minimum: The title tag and descriptor underneath the search result is considered as a ranking factor by Google, and can positively influence your rankings for a particular keyword. Your title should include your keyword and brand name as a minimum, but try to be as creative as possible with the character limit (55 is the defacto) that you have available.  In the META description, it’s more important to include your value proposition and key information, for example “free delivery on all orders”, or “free quotation”. Remember, you’re trying to stand out to win a greater share of the clicks against the other websites competing for the same keyword so details and USPs are key.

“It’s widely reported that somewhere around 90 per cent of all purchasing decisions begin with a search engine and a search query. SEO can therefore play a huge part in the marketing strategy of a small business.

Alex continues. “Sharing your expertise through content and delivering value to your target market is the name of the game, and it’s a playground that, whilst dominated by some larger brands, isn’t policed by them. It’s entirely possible for a small business to compete and win on this channel, and doesn’t have to involve a huge cost in doing so.”

Guest Blog, Keren Lerner: Social media in business – who’s responsible?

Social media is undeniably a key factor in business success.  In an era where prospects and supply partners will Google both company and management team before even considering any further interaction, social media content has evolved to be more than a shop window: it is the chance to display the essential voice and vision of the business – and who better to deliver this than the senior managers that define them?

Yet far too many innovative, exciting businesses now mask their true nature by opting to delegate all responsibility for social media channels away from the team’s founder, owner or leaders – often due to the mindset: “I’ll leave this to the experts, it’s not my field, and I am too busy anyway.”

Granted, experienced marketers have the skills and techniques required to create content and manage social media output, but it is the voice of the business owner or managing director that needs to be heard, and the role of the marketer to ensure responsibility isn’t abdicated entirely, but intelligently.

 

Mechanics plus vision

Most businesses that do recognise the need to embrace a dynamic and interactive approach to social media – and, unfortunately, far too many don’t – assume the entire process can be delivered by marketers, either in house or via third party agencies.

But this is not an out-of-the-box, one-size-fits-all scenario.

Marketers are fantastic at putting the right mechanics in place, ensuring social media feeds are integrated and link back to original content. But does the marketer have that essential business vision or understand what led to the creation of the company in the first place? Not unless the marketer was the founder.

It is only the owner who fully understands why the business was set up, the problems it was designed to solve or the customers it wants to help. And a failure to communicate that message is a real missed opportunity.

 

Capturing the voice

The voice of the company should have an interactive social media strategy, coupled with an engaging website, well-written blog posts and content marketing. But it is also important to gain input from across the business – so the founder and the leadership team coming together to discuss ideas in keeping with the company ‘voice’ is invaluable.

The right line of questions and facilitation can prompt new insights and make it easier for a marketer to harness the essential nature of the business.

 

And it doesn’t end there

Following an initial discussion, senior management needs to stay engaged with this key aspect of business success and identity. It doesn’t need to be onerous – a scheduled time each week or month discussing ideas, from customer issues to market change, is essential to ensure published content and messages truly reflect the nature of the organisation.

 

Conclusion

Marketers must steer senior management to re-evaluate how they approach their company’s social media presence. This is a portal to the business, a way to drive engagement with prospects and customers, suppliers and business partners – and it needs to be as compelling and engaging as possible – with real insight, real stories and real experiences.

Although it is widely thought that business leaders are typically driven, opinionated and focused – that is what underpins success. So, harness that uniqueness. Generic content completely masks the true nature of the company – make sure the critical business lens of social media channels such as Twitter and LinkedIn are a true reflection of its core beliefs, passion and expertise.

 

 

Keren Lerner is founder and managing director of London-based design and marketing agency, Top Left Design and holds regular social media workshops,  with her next event – ‘Nine things you need to do on LinkedIn for business’ – taking place at Soho House on September 23,  2016, at 1pm. Email keren@topleftdesign.com for more information.