5 Top Networking Tips for Food Entrepreneurs.

Networking can be pretty hard work. Everyone knows how important it is to make good connections, but how do you attend networking nights and get the most out of them, without feeling like you've just lost a couple of hours over some hot air?

We know that us foodies tend to be introverts. We don't do strangers. And we don't love small talk either. So that's why we created our speed mentoring evenings. They're a chance for food producers to get talking to experienced, knowledgeable people from the fine food industry in an easy, super speedy way.

 

Do you want to grow your business in just 3 minutes? Find out how in our Speedy Guide to Speed Mentoring.

Here are five ways that you can make the most out of any networking situation:

1. Eye line is buy line

We know that first impressions are really important and in the retail world, items shift fastest when they're at eye level. Make sure you're bouncing off the shelves in real life situations with  great eye contact, a super smile and arm yourself with a few questions to break the ice.

Top tip: Stand up straight and look straight at the person you're talking to for that instant confident and professional look. Sometimes it's the simple stuff that really makes a difference.

2. Be prepared

Being a small business owner means wearing lots of different hats, so make sure you bring the right one along with you to your networking event. Look at each event with a strategic eye and think about the kind of people that are likely to be there. Then cater your brand message accordingly, focusing on the parts of your business that are probably going to capture their attention the most.

Top tip: Give each networking event a theme for yourself, so people remember who you are and what you need. Are you a startup who needs to get listed? Or a growing business who needs brand design? Or a producer who needs help with logistics? This makes connecting with you easy because people can focus conversation on one clear issue, whether that's improving your website or getting listed somewhere specific. Everyone wants to 'sell more stuff'... So make sure your problem stands out so it gets sorted.

3. Bring your samples

If you're a food producer, your business is all about your product. Sounds pretty obvious, right? We meet producers all the time and I'd say the number of people who actually have their product on them at networking events is around 1 in 10. Products are the best way to be memorable - after all, it's what we're all interested in! Invest in producing samples that are well labelled and well presented. Make sure you have them on you at all times, whether you're going to a Meet the Buyers night or just for a pint at your local. You never know who you might be speaking to and it pays to be prepared. Even if you're chilled or frozen business, take the time to think about how to represent your product in some way.

Top tip: A wonderful tea business owner we know from Dorset likes to give away a little sample bag of tea attached to her business card. It's a great talking point and giving away a little special something when people are least expecting it starts her off on great footing. Don't be embarrassed - it's not a hard sell, it's free food!

4. Make your packaging work for you

Your business card is like your personal packaging - make sure it's working for you! Just like your label, it's going to be what people will be looking at long after they've met (sampled!) you and they're emptying their pockets just before bedtime. Make sure yours stands out and communicates what you're all about clearly... And make sure they're in everyone's hand before you leave!

Top tip: Set a personal goal for your business cards before each networking opportunity. Aim to distribute at least 10, 20 or even 50 cards before home time to help you keep your mind focused on connections, not cocktails!

5. Follow up

Make time first thing the next morning to follow up with everyone you've met the night before, even if you're convinced that they'd never be of any use to you. It doesn't have to be long - just a quick hello and reminder of where you met, who you are and what you're about. Even if you aren't ever useful to each other directly, growing your network adds to your credibility as a small business - that connection might make all the difference in building trust and raising brand awareness in another situation further down the line.

Top tip: scribble down a little note on someone's business card about what they do so you remember what to say the next morning.

Come along to our speed mentoring evening at M&S HQ on 23rd March for a fast moving networking frenzy that makes sure you make the most of your new connections.

We'll help you master the art of networking with handy worksheets, connection notes and prompters so all you need to do on the day is turn up with a smile and you'll leave with a great new food business focused network.

Do you want to grow your business in just 3 minutes? Find out how in our Speedy Guide to Speed Mentoring.