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Author: Steve Jenkins
2nd January 2013

Charlie Lawson: The best net there is

Networking isn’t just about meeting people, it’s so much more. Charlie Lawson, the national director of BNI, the UK’s largest business networking and referral organisation reveals the power of long term relationships

Charlie Lawson: The best net there isBIO: Charlie Lawson is the national director of BNI, the UK’s largest business networking and referral organisation. As a widely recognised expert on the power of ‘word of mouth marketing’ Charlie is a public speaker, trainer and blogger on the subject.

Networking is about making new contacts that you can do great business with, getting better quality business, building a valuable support network; and it’s also about personal development. But, how are these things useful to web designers and why should you be networking?

Unsurprisingly, over the last ten years, web agencies have become one of the most popular start-up companies in the UK. With an estimated 182 million websites over the world it seems like you can’t go wrong by setting up a web design business.
However, keeping business continually coming through the door can sometimes prove difficult. Networking is about so much more than just meeting people: new contacts can turn into clients and those new contacts may know people who turn into long standing clients, which results in an increase in turnover for your business. BNI member Jon Withers told me: “Our web agency, Rocket Mill, has been built upon networking. The business we win from it sticks and we build great long-term relationships through the process.”
It’s not just about who you want to do business with either, but who wants to do business with you. By networking you’re increasing your visibility among your local business community and spreading the word about your business to a wealth of contacts. Every time you meet with your network, you aren’t just meeting with a group of business people; you’re networking on a much wider scale. If you think that on average each person knows 1,000 people, in a room of 50 people, that’s 50,000 potential clients you could be designing a website for. Is that something you can afford to miss out on?
If you’ve ever had a client that you wish you had never become involved with then you’ll appreciate my next reason as to why you should be networking. Through networking you don’t just meet potential business contacts; you meet the right ones, the good ones, the ones with whom you want to work.
Business passed at networking groups comes from reliable and trustworthy sources, which means you can put your mind at ease. Knowing that the person with whom you will be working with comes with a solid reference is worth its weight in gold. You can ask the important questions as well and get truthful answers: are they likely to pay on time, will they take your advice on board, is their business doing well? There isn’t a better recommendation than when it comes from someone who has had first-hand experience of working with the client already. It’s in the interest of the person passing on the reference to you to provide you with a good customer; if they continually pass bad business recommendations then it’s likely that work coming from their network will soon dry up for them.
Networking isn’t primarily about making friends, but for many web designers, particularly for freelance designers and small agencies, it can be a guaranteed way to meet other like minded business professionals on a regular basis. Structured networking also allows you to get the most out of the people you meet. Your networking colleagues aren’t just there to give you business, they are also there to support you.
Running your own business can be lonely, and having the right people on hand at the right time can make all the difference between running a business and running a successful business. You can turn to the accountant in your network to give you tax advice, to the HR consultant for when you need some workplace guidance and to the letting agent if you are thinking about moving your business premises. You need to network not just to grow your business, but to help you build a better business.
Networking can also help you develop on a personal level and give you transferable skills which can be used every day in business. Presentation skills, which most networking groups offer training on, can be applied in every day circumstances. If you break into a sweat at the thought of standing up in front of a new client and presenting your business to them, then some practical skills learned from networking can come in useful. These will help you to relax and remain calm and confident in front of that important client, which can potentially help you win the pitch over your competition.
Polishing your 60 second ‘elevator’ pitch is also taught through networking. With the web industry continuing to grow at an astonishing rate, being able to tell people not just what you do, but having the ability to explain what makes your organisation unique and what places you are above your competitors down the road in a succinct and clear way is priceless.
Every web designer should be networking; it’s an essential part of business for so many different reasons and it can help your business on a multitude of levels. So, why do you need to network?

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