The Networking Jungle
One of the toughest parts of an SME's life is not the formation of a new company, or the belief in your product or services, it is the spreading the word. Developing your business market presence, making the contacts and finding investors is the part that takes most of the time and energy. The time you feel you have is disbursed like confetti throughout the weeks and months pacing the streets and locations of your next opportunity. It is a hard field to navigate and to utilise your time effectively and efficiently, trying to avoid burnout. The art of networking is key to this. Even in this electronic day and age, in this part of the world of the UAE, the value of old fashion networking cannot be undervalued, especially for an SME. So, what are the key to undertaking this.
Know Your Potential Audience
It can be very easy to just turn up to any event and conference, however, for this to be affective you need to understand your potential clients for your services and products. Also, you will need to know your industry area so you can find the latest initiatives, understand and see your nearest competitors or make partnerships with other companies that could be a support. To achieve this, you need to put in your research time through techniques such as reading your competitors websites, and potential clients’ LinkedIn profiles. Here you are looking for clues of where they go, which events they attend and what groups they belong to. These bits of information slowly bring out a picture to build a business awareness strategy based on these events and group meetings.
These are the larger events that you will be attending where you will be looking to attract attention to your product or service. There are some decisions to be made before attending conferences as it is not just a case of just turning up and hoping for the best. First, you need to understand if it is a conference that you will be just attending or if you will be participating at the event with a stand. This is dependent upon the amount of investment you can use, compared to the amount of exposure you expect to get.
With the walk around technique you need to do your research before turning up. Know which companies are going, where their stands are, and what to talk to them about. Some of you will want to be pitching your service or product, and you will need to master your 30 second elevator pitch. Others of you will be looking to collaborate with partners, extending your network, or maybe utilise the same logistics services. Finally, you will come across those that will simply inspire you with new ideas through watching the presentations, attending the workshops, or just through conversations.
You will find events for all industries, and therefore you need to be careful you are selecting the ones most relevant for you. The last thing you need is to be out at one of these late night or early morning events where it has no use to you, no matter how nice the food or company is. So back to the research of understanding what types of companies, people attend the network. What is the format of the event? Is it just an informal meet where you can walk around? Is it a breakfast sitting next to each other? or a presentation based where you have a limited time for networking before and after the main event?
These are more intimate than conferences, and normally in a relaxed atmosphere. For potential clients it is about the master to pitch but not in as a sales type manner used at a conference, or a more formal occasion. The need to interject with small talk, and maybe no talk of business at all, but with the purpose of obtaining a connection to follow up on at a later time. Get those business cards to follow up with. A nice little trick I learnt from a friend of mine is to navigate around the business card and ask them to connect with you on LinkedIn while at the event. This level of attachment guarantees that you are connected on a level and therefore they are less likely to ignore a follow up messages compared to an email.
For start-ups, in the UAE, the networking groups I have found most useful to attend have been:
· Startup Grind Dubai - These are evening events that will have a guest speaker, mainly talking about their setup experiences. It moves to different locations across Dubai and has a relaxed ambience. There is time for networking before and after the presentations. For more information look them up at www.startupgrind.com
· Fun Dubai - The evening events made here are inviting guest speakers to talk about their startup failures. Some are about their past failures, or those currently failing. However, the evening starts and ends with informal networking opportunities of meeting investors and other SMEs. They are best found on Instagram via fun_dxb.
Network and Conference Tools
For me there are a couple of apps I use to flick through all the event around in the UAE. These are Eventbrite and Dubai Calendar, and between them it seems to cover the majority of events and conferences within the UAE. I am sure there are plenty more out there, that can be as useful. In the end just make sure you have something that you can use to look for up and coming events and conferences, these will give you the ability to read a brief regarding the activities and an insight of the type of companies and people that will be attending. Normally you can fine tune the searches with industry specific filters, you can then book and apply to your calendar for the events you have decided to go to. There is always a mixture of free and paid for events.
These are specific groups formed for purpose of network and supporting each other that have a common interest or service. You find that you pay a subscription fee that will entitle you to attend invited events, some free and some at a discounted rates, and utilise various services of that group. Research is also required here, as you need to understand the type of businesses that attend, and what you are looking to achieve. Some are useful to meet potential clients, where businesses will support each other. The case of 'who you know' so the more relationships you develop the more chances you will have for future business.
Also, they are a great opportunity for access to other areas that you would not normally have. To gain information about the local market trends, or access to knowledge on marketing techniques, or informal chats of how to crack another market. This can all be valuable information gathered in an informal occasion, and normally costing less than having to purchase the information.
The current trend now, is looking to the online platforms for networking such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn YouTube, and the latest Tick Tock. These do yield an opportunity to connect to a very wide network, across industries and regions, however, they require dedication to be able to utilise them fully.
First, it is about identifying your audience and then which of these online platforms most of them would be using, and you maybe needing to use different platforms for different reasons. For example, you Client base maybe the young generation (approx. 16 – 21), therefore they are the type that will experiment more and use the latest platforms such as Tick Tock, or if using a more established one platform, Instagram. However, for finding potential investors, or trying to build opportunities through partnerships, then LinkedIn would be the platform most of these people would use. Now this is not a given, and research needs to be done to see, but the point is is that each platform will need to be used for differing purposes.
Next, is looking at creating engagement. This is tricky as each platform has its own set of algorithms to determine how seen you are. These are dependent on a lot of differing factors and are changeable pending on the platform providers programmers. This is why in the end the larger companies invest in digital marketing, not to just place up random posts, their role is to determine all the parameters of when, how often, the size of the piece, the maximum amount of SEO exposure. However, this is for another topic and another time.
In terms of networking, it is connecting to people that look to be in the same industry circles, or potential clients. Then it is strengthening that connection through directly mailing, messaging, commenting on their posts (with a quality comment), and finally liking posts. In the end it is a numbers game, the more you attempt to connect with a percentage of those will communicate back, with a smaller percentage looking to meet giving you a foot in the door.
For your business you will need to factor in what your strategy is for drumming up business. In the end networking is a taxing task, and if you do not utilise your time wisely not only will you spread yourself too thin, you will also tire yourself out and not be focused on the main issue, your business.
If you can invest then find someone that can cross that bridge of traditional marketing and business developing with the online presence. If it is not something that you can invest in presently, then the tips above should help tie you over in the meantime.