Networking for success

Have you ever wondered if networking is truly a game-changer for interior designers? Spoiler alert: it absolutely is, but only if you know how to network effectively. Read on to find out all about networking for success.

I’ll teach you how to make the most of the networking events you attend AND I’ll share my top tips for making networking a successful marketing strategy for you as an interior designer.

When the majority of people think about networking, they likely focus on the event itself – but there are actually three stages to networking for success – BEFORE, DURING and AFTER. All of these stages are crucial to boosting your business success AND enjoyment of networking.

Before we dive into the nuances of networking – the before, during, and after – what IS networking?

What is Networking?

According to “Business networking is the practice of meeting people to exchange knowledge, develop new professional contacts and form beneficial partnerships.”

Networking is stepping into a room full of potential collaborators, clients and industry allies. It’s not just an event, it’s a room full of opportunities.

‘A staggering 85% of jobs are filled through networking, emphasising the pivotal role of connections in accessing employment opportunities.

Furthermore, 78% of successful start-ups attribute their achievements to effective networking, underscoring its importance for entrepreneurial ventures.’ Zippia

Networking is a great chance to meet contacts to work with in your business – from trades, potential key referrers such as architects, estate agents and surveyors, to business professionals such as marketing experts, printers, and website developers.

Networking meetings are also a great opportunity to meet other solo business owners. To share experiences on managing and growing a business.

BEFORE networking: Preparing for a networking event is key.

Set an objective for each event you plan to attend.

When networking for success, it’s important to find out who will be there, so you know who you want to speak with. You can sometimes get names in advance from the organisers, if not, check the sign-in list on arrival.  

If there are specific individuals you’d like to speak to, try connecting with them prior to the event (for instance on LinkedIn). A quick “Hi! I’m coming to the event on Thursday and I’d love the opportunity to chat to you. I look forward to seeing you there” is all you need.

Your target might be to speak with 3 people that you have never met before, or to set up a follow up meeting with one contact that you’d like to work with in the future.

Remember that your objective at networking should NEVER be to sell. No-one, and I mean NO-ONE, enjoys being sold to, especially by a stranger. The aim is to listen to what other people do, find out if there is common ground, and explore opportunities for you to work together in the future.

Prepare to make a good impression.

It should go without saying, but make sure you arrive on time. It’s good manners, and if you are already nervous, pitching up late is not going to settle your nerves.

To ensure you arrive on time, do a little prep!

  • Make sure you know exactly where the networking event is being held.
  • Add the full address to your calendar (no scrabbling around on the day of the meeting hunting for a postcode).
  • Check what parking facilities are available, and how close to the venue the parking is.

What will you wear?

There can be a real mix when it comes to the dress code at networking events – often due to the range of professions that attend.

The advice that I was once given, and I stand by, is to wear the outfit you’d put on for your best client. This means that ‘trades’ will often attend in utility trousers and branded t-shirts or jumpers – the clothes they would wear on the job. An estate agent is likely to wear a business suit and tie.

What would you wear to a client meeting? First impressions really do count. Take the opportunity to represent yourself and what your business brand stands for.

This doesn’t need to be conservative or a suit – if you design with flair then dress that way!

The meeting agenda

It’s good to get an idea of how the meeting will be run. Is the event open, informal networking only? Will there be an opportunity to speak to the whole group (often referred to as a 60 second slot)?

The 60 seconds slot (or elevator pitch) is something you should prepare ahead of time. This is especially important if you are nervous, or not comfortable speaking in public.

Marketing literature

Make sure you have business cards that you can give out if requested, or to offer politely. More on business cards in a bit. Another option is to take a flyer or other printed marketing collateral.

DURING networking: Making the best impression.

If you’re nervous about networking, or worried about not knowing anyone, chances are you are not alone.

A well-run networking group will have people to greet you as you arrive, offer you a drink, and to introduce you to someone to talk to. If this doesn’t happen, you are likely not going to be the only one in that boat. Head for the drinks station and you will likely find someone else stalling whilst making of a cup of tea – strike up a conversation with them.

First impressions really do count.

  • You have about 7 seconds to make a first impression.
  • Smile, be friendly and interested in whomever you are talking to.
  • Listen actively to what the other person is saying to you. You shouldn’t just be waiting for them to finish so that you can have your turn to speak.
  • Be present in the moment, not distracted or glancing around the room for other people to speak to.

Don’t overdo it.  3 or 4 good exchanges are better than 10 fleeting ones.  Once you’ve hit your target, you can relax and enjoy the event.

DON’T SELL: If you’re focused on networking for success, you need to remember that business networking is about establishing a relationship, not selling to the individual.

Tools of the (networking) trade:

Name tags

Wear a name tag, even if you are not asked to. It’s so much easier for someone to engage with you if you have a name tag on (be it strangers or people you’ve met before). How many times have you avoided approaching someone because you recognise them, but can’t remember their name?

A name tag is also a memory aid. It’s hard for people to forget who you are when your name tag is on display throughout your conversation.  

Worried about ruining your clothes with a safety pin or a sticky name tag? Google ‘magnetic name badge’. You can go for something fully branded with your logo, or a badge with a card insert window (handy if you have more than one business).

Business cards

A business card is a key marketing tool and particularly useful when networking for success.

This is a personal bug bear of mine, but I dislike intensely having business cards thrust at me before I have even spoken to someone or had the chance to establish if there is a good fit or a need for their services.

Do exchange business cards and treat the cards you receive with respect, don’t just take them and stuff them into a bag or pocket without looking at them. Make notes on those that you receive. I like to add the date and/or event as a memory prompt, and any relevant key facts.

I carry a ‘tech enabled’ business card (mine is from V1CE). They work via NFC (near field technology) – the same technology used to make electronic payments. You essentially transfer your digital business card with one tap, to be saved in the recipient’s contacts (such as outlook). They can then add any notes they like to the contact details in the phone.

A tech business card is super handy to carry around with you – when I networked a lot in the past my handbag was weighed down with them! And it’s a sustainable option as it saves on repeated printing (costs to the environment and your wallet). Mine is also made from bamboo.

You can also change the details stored in the backend – so if your address changes or your phone number, or even your name, you update the details with no need to change out the business card.  

Notepad and paper

Make sure you take a pen and notepad to networking. If appropriate, use them after every encounter. You will NOT remember every conversation and every detail after the event unless you make notes.

Elevator Pitch

Have an Elevator Pitch – often referred to as 60 secs – ready.  Be clear on what you offer and emphasise the type of clients you are looking for.

You only get 60 seconds so if, like most interior designers, you have more than one service offering, I’d stick to just one thing and keep it simple. If you throw too much information at your audience they are likely to forget everything, or at the very least be very confused.

Remember half the audience are scared witless, nervously waiting for their turn to talk, with only half an ear on what you are saying. Keep it simple.

There can be a fear that you need to squeeze every last bit of information in about what you do – but this is just an opener. You want to be clear about what you do, make it memorable (stories are always good) and not get into the intricate detail. No need to mention elevations and the ins and outs of your service.

An example of an effective 60 seconds:

“Hello, I’m Lisa Honiball from Honey Interior Design.

I use my interior design expertise to help busy families create homes that are functional AND pretty to look at. The clever storage solutions I suggest mean that my clients spend their spare time together as a family, in a home that really works for them, not endlessly searching for lost items or tripping over toys and feeling chaotic.

I’m looking for families with children, who have just moved into a new property, are overwhelmed with the clutter, and stuck on how to make their house feel like a home.

Lisa Honiball from Honey Interior Design. Providing interior design services for a home you can be really proud of”.

Stand up

Lastly, STAND UP. I know speaking in public can be scary, and I know at some networking events everybody stays sat down when they talk about what they do, but I would really encourage you to stand-up. Even if no-one else does.

In most networking set-ups, you can not fully see, nor hear the person talking if they are sat down. If you stand up your voice will project, and your audience will be able to associate your words with you! You’ve invested time (and money) by being at a networking event, give yourself the best opportunity to be seen and heard.

AFTER Networking: following up

Follow-up after a networking event is really important.

  • Make sure you contact all those you have spoken to, preferably by phone, not just text or email.  
  • The two words everyone enjoys hearing most, after their name, are “Thank you”.  The call is to thank the individual for taking time to talk.  
  • Remember, networking is about building relationships, not making a sale.
  • A follow-up call is a good opportunity to progress things – whether it’s sending the information you promised when you spoke, or suggesting a time for a next meeting.

If there are people who you are interested in building a relationship with, follow them on social media platforms where they are active, and request to connect on LinkedIn (send a note referring to the networking meeting you both just attended).

Networking for success: a marketing strategy for your interior design business

There are lots of different networking organisations about. Don’t attend one meeting, hate it, and give up on networking altogether. Find a group that works for you.

Over my years networking, I’ve found that different groups have a different vibe. Some groups are highly committed and produce great results, others are more laid back – great for social interaction but not so good for generating business leads.

You may also have a preference for a female only group – definitely a different vibe to mixed groups. Or prefer to network on a given day of the week or time of day.

You may be restricted by family commitments. Early breakfast networking meetings are hard for anyone with school drop off responsibilities.  Likewise, you may have other activities which prevent you from going to evening network groups (or you’re just too tired at the end of a long workday!).

It takes time

Like many marketing activities, networking can take time to deliver results. Do not expect to rock up to a networking event and make immediate sales. It can happen, but it’s the exception, not the rule.

This is particularly true for Interior Design services which are not a low budget offering. The pricier the product or service, the longer it can take to see some traction. Keep plugging away, stay consistent, network effectively, and you WILL see results.

When I moved from Oxfordshire to Kent, I built my business entirely from my website and networking. And the leads I got from networking were incredible. I got my foot in the door at organisations, and residential projects, that I just couldn’t have got without a personal recommendation, but… it took me 18 months of weekly networking.

Was it worth it for me? Yes, absolutely. I built out a smaller packaged offering (in-home design consultancy) which at the time was priced at £95 – my design in a box service. This lower priced offering enabled people to try out my services. This brought in some income before I began getting recommended for larger projects.

Track your investment

As with any marketing activity keep track of how many hours, and how much money, you are spending on networking. There has to be a return on your investment.

It’s wonderful making new friends through networking – but you are there to grow and support your business.

Be realistic about what you can achieve – the number of hours you put in versus the amount of revenue you generate. Remember to count the time you spend on networking activities outside of the actual events.

I hope you’ll find this overview insightful for networking for success! Including networking in your marketing strategy is well worth considering. And – if you are already networking – I hope it challenges you to network more effectively, and leads to even greater results!

If you are focusing on marketing, you might find this article on ‘Using SEO to find clients’ interesting or enjoy reading ‘7 tips to improve your marketing and find more clients’.