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Networking is essential in business for making new contacts and generating leads.

Winning new work is still about who you know and not just what you know.

Application of a strategic approach to networking can deliver lucrative returns as contacts offer you work.

However, the choice of networking opportunities can become bewildering.

They range from breakfast clubs where members are required to make formal referrals, to black tie dinners.

They include geographically-based groups such as West Cheshire and North Wales Chamber of Commerce, and groups for professionals in the same field, such as the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

And online networking tactics such as LinkedIn mean you no longer have to leave the office to connect to prospective customers.

Many businesspeople select a mix of face-to-face plus online networking.

Seasoned networker and Outwrite managing director, Tracy North, currently vice-chairman of the Institute of Directors in North Wales, offers her tips, whether on- or off-line:

  • Plan networking as a defined tactic within your marketing strategy
  • Allocate a set amount of time each week or month to network
  • Determining what time of day is convenient will help you choose which organisation to join eg you may prefer breakfast meetings because you can go on to work a full day in the office afterwards
  • Should your networking be sector based eg an exporters’ club, or geographically-based eg IoD Cheshire branch or North Wales branch?
  • Check the profile of other members.  There is no point joining a group of one-man bands if your target customers are SMEs that employ more than 100
  • Networking within your trade or professional body will keep you up to date with new ideas and help your continuing professional development (CPD)
  • Which individuals from within member organisations represent it? If you are targeting purchasing managers and members are mostly HR representatives, is it right for you?
  • At a networking event, remember to ask for business cards – and offer out your own
  • Ask new contacts if you can add them to your company’s newsletter mailing list

Other local and regional networking organisations include:  The Business Network, Chester; Chartered Institute of Marketing; CBI; Chester Business Club, North Wales Business Club and Business Network International.