FEATURE: A masterclass in networking to bolster business

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Networking is a vital tool in solving problems and growing companies in the jewellery sector, but it is often easier said than done. Professional jeweller speaks to industry experts to learn how you can come away from your next event brimming with ideas, solutions and new contacts to help bolster your business.

The jewellery industry is packed full of innovative thinkers, bright designers, sharp retailers and a host of other business leaders. True luminaries look to utilise this and for both newcomers and established businesses alike, meeting others in the jewellery community can help to fuel ideas and progression and uncover new ways of working. Even though the jewellery sector is relatively small and well connected, networking is nevertheless an extremely important avenue for any business which is looking to grow.

Small business consultant Graham L Morgan, Business Doctors, notes how meeting other retailers and people in the jewellery industry can have a number of benefits. For example, he explains how you may hear about subsidised training schemes for staff, local grants available for the business or pick up information about potential new suppliers. “Other local businesses in the wider business community might be able to tell you about support available locally to help with web presence and digital connectivity,” he says, continuing: “By speaking to them, you may learn ahead of time about local events you could become involved with.”

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Jewellery buying group, the Company of Master Jewellers, reiterates this point. Lucy Reece-Raybould, executive director of business development and marketing at the group, outlines how she often talks to members and suppliers about the pitfalls they’ve encountered and overcome, successes they’ve enjoyed and staff leavers and joiners. She comments: “The next day, week or month I will find myself talking to another retailer and they’re experiencing similar challenges or looking for a new member of staff and very often I can suggest a name or someone they should talk to or tell them about a new innovation or piece of equipment – that’s networking.”

Networking is indeed a two way street and as well as learning information, businesses can promote themselves through meeting other industry professionals. Sam Willoughby, event director of International Jewellery London (IJL), believes that networking is integral to successful marketing and sales. She says: “It’s through networking that you can not only raise your company’s profile but also that of the team’s – in the end people want to do business with people they like and trust. And to achieve this, they need to know who you are.” With this in mind, Reece-Reybould says how her number one tip is you get more if you give more.

But effective networking is not all about formal meetings and conferences. Reece-Raybould urges those in the industry to remember the ‘down time’. “Early in my time at the CMJ I learnt that an awful lot of business gets discussed in the bar at the end of the night. In fact one retailer told me that it was essential to stay over at any CMJ event as it was in the evenings that he learnt the most about trends in the trade,” she explains, adding: “I’ve witnessed discussions over breakfast between store managers or business owners from different parts of the country who have helped to solve a problem for the other just by talking it through.”

Willoughby echoes this thought: “Always attend show parties and receptions as they provide the ideal chance to meet key contacts informally in a social, relaxed environment, without the pressures of needing to do business. The best networking often seems to happen spontaneously but I do try to keep up to date with new appointments and management changes, as well as what’s going on in the industry.”
For both the CMJ executive and Willoughby, preparation is absolutely key to success at networking events. “The secret to successful networking at an event is to do your homework before you go. Most event organisers issue attendance or guest lists in advance,” says Willoughby, continuing: “Make a note of the brands and suppliers you want to meet and, if exhibiting, the number of their stands – and try to drop them a note before the show to say that you would like to meet up.”

Meanwhile, Reece-Raybould notes you can’t just take without giving, citing the old adage, “we have two ears and one mouth – use them in that proportion”.

Industry professionals are urged to be open to talking about themselves and their businesses, ask questions and listen. Reece-Reybould notes how by talking about what you do, sharing challenges, being honest and listening to other peoples’ experiences, you can facilitate organic conversation, which are usually the most profitable. Small things like taking mental notes of solutions or taking contact names, swapping email addresses and numbers and keeping up contact once you’ve made it can all help your business.

The do’s and don’ts
Networking can be intimidating and is often easier said than done. But there are some key points to consider when attending events or indeed, when you’re standing at the bar after one.

Reece-Reynoulds advises: “Be professional and courteous and don’t just ask for help then walk away once you have what you wanted; be prepared to give back and be a ‘helper’.” She is keen to outline that networking is a two-way street, even if you feel you have nothing to offer the person or group that has helped or advised you. After all, networking and forging business relationships is usually about long-term goals, as Willoughby explains: “Be relaxed and be aware that even the best laid plans to meet up don’t always work. Often the timing is not right, so always treat networking – as in the case of new business – as a long game. To be successful commercially in the case of a jeweller or retailer is, simplistically, not just about having the right products at the right price, but also your company’s image and reputation as a potential business partner.”

Finally, it is imperative to follow up after a networking event to ensure all those new contacts don’t go to waste. Finding out a bit more about the contact by looking on the company’s website and on LinkedIn allows you to build on what you already have. But Brad Burton, founder of 4Networking, the biggest joined up networking organisation in the UK, advises that you should not follow up with an 8,000 word email saying “it was nice to meet you and here’s lots of information about my products”. Burton says: “One of the best ways is to send a little gift – it could be a voucher with a thank you message or nice to connect message. If they’ve shared they’ve got a big birthday coming up, or their daughter is getting married next year for example, send them a genuine special offer that’s part of a conversation.”

All in all, members of the jewellery industry have the power to substantially improve their individual businesses and grow the sector as a whole. Networking plays an essential part in this and by heeding some of our experts’ tips, the next event you attend could prove to be your most profitable yet. Just don’t forget to follow up!

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