We rarely do business alone! Whatever your business sector or your stage of development, you should always know where to turn to nurture your business. Fortunately, there are plenty of networking initiatives in Brussels! If you're not familiar with how it all works, here are five tips for networking successfully.
Be convinced !
Networking is a good occasion to multiply business opportunities. It is the ideal time to meet people involved in your business in one way or another: commercial partners, suppliers, providers, customers, even potential employees. The position held by these people may be important in terms of information about what you're offering (market needs, etc.); communication methods (word-of-mouth, reputation, etc.); sales (conclusion of contracts, etc.); or strengthening of your business (new partnerships, new recruits, etc.). A good network of relations is a sold gage of success for the good progress and the growth of a business.
Don't restrict your virtual networking
Networking online and in the real world are two options, but they do not achieve the same objectives. The growing importance of social media is obviously a very good chance to connect with the rest of the world, to keep up with what is happening, and to interact with it. However, online connections cannot replace real world connections. These are stable and well-established relationships which will be sources of real opportunities for your business. Obviously, this approach requires more effort but it is usually worth it.
Transform moments into opportunities
Creating a good network of contacts is accessible to all, provided that the basic principles of networking are followed.
Opting for active networking involves not leaving things to chance and asking the right questions. Who do I need to connect with to have the most success? Which groups of people could be most profitable for my business? How can I connect with these people? Responses must lead to specific actions, be put in writing, and be assigned priorities like in an action plan.
After having selected the bases of your strategy, it is then time to prepare your intervention. Focus on what you are, on your strengths, and how you are different. To find out more about the elevator pitch used to present yourself, read the relevant article on this site.
Finally, listen to your contact, know who you are speaking to, and listen to what they say. This will allow you to find out why they are interested in you and what you can possibly offer them.
Time is a rare commodity for the company director. This means that they have to carefully consider how to use it (events, conferences, seminars, receptions, meetings, etc.). The selection criteria must be the opportunity that represents events for your business: how will you be able to nurture it or ensure that it prospers? You should focus your efforts on relationships which will help you grow. The same applies to the people you approach. The aim isn't to give out as many business cards as possible. Know precisely who you want to meet and focus on the quality of contacts rather than on the quantity.
Keep one thing in mind: you will only be successful if you help others have success. Providing relevant information, offering advice, or providing a service will help to strengthen your network. But these recommendations are only valid if you remain true. Be determined in your initial contacts, but don't mislead people. A network based on false relationships does not prosper. To create a good network, and thus good opportunities, the "current must flow".
Maintain your relationships
So that these contacts remain profitable in the long term, it is important to structure your network, to keep it in order so that you know exactly who to contact if necessary in the future. Look after your contacts: store any business cards properly and indicate when they were exchanged, or the interest these people showed in you; update your address book; and follow-up on your meetings (email, meeting invitation, etc.).
Get started !
Now that you are aware of these principles, you no longer have any excuses. There are so many networking initiatives in Brussels that we are unable to provide an exhaustive list here. One option is to regularly visit the Diary section of this website where you can find out about events, workshops, seminars, and training organised for entrepreneurs. Don't forget the Salon Entreprendre held every year in Brussels in March which is a good chance to take you first steps in networking.
Several business support organisations organise events to facilitate networking.
Supported by public powers, business centres offer meeting opportunities in various forms: privileged moments between entrepreneurs (Apéros du Centre Dansaert, Ateliers de réseautage de l’Ateliers des Tanneurs, Tables d’hôte de Pepibru, etc.) or afterwork events encouraging meetings between starters and existing entrepreneurs based on a common theme (Green Afterwork du Village Partenaire, etc.).
Other structures offer supervision for the entrepreneurs they support or who they help to launch: this is the case for Job Yourself with Club des entrepreneurs and Réseau Entreprendre with Club des lauréats.
With a view to sector management, the hub.brussels clusters energise exchanges between their members through numerous activities. Other organisations such as MAD (FR) and Smartbe aim to federate and bring together artists with other types of entrepreneurs who may help them develop their business.
Private initiatives are also having clear success. In recent years, BECI (FR) has organised afterwork events for entrepreneurs. At the end of the month, they hold the Young Professional Networking Night (FR) for those wanting to develop international contacts.
Apéros Entrepreneurs (FR) is a French initiative which arrived in Belgium several years ago, and is held once a month.
Finally, shared working spaces are becoming popular in Brussels. The Loft Coworking (FR), Beta Coworking (FR) and, more recently, Factory Forty offer networking through the provision of open spaces and the activities offered.
Other networking initiatives are still in the planning stage, but should be introduced in 2013. Actors on the ground, future entrepreneurs, or experienced businessmen… you no longer have any excuse for not developing promising professional relationships.