Mike Stokes

Mike Stokes

mikestokes

Mike Stokes had a long exporting career and has advised new exporters since 2003. He networked prolifically to establish his own business and then in 2009 he formed his own networking group in Lincoln, The Business Club.


As websites become ever more effective at attracting customer interest, so businesses are confronted by potential overseas customers much earlier than they used to be. Often it would be two or three years before the first export enquiry came in – now it can be two or three days.

So, why shouldn’t businesses just dive in and start exporting straight away? There are a few questions to answer first.

1. Is there a realistic product USP?

  • What characteristics differentiate the product or service from the competition?
  • And once the Channel has been crossed, are those USPs still relevant?
  • Is this just the “me too” syndrome?
  • Has it just been assumed that overseas competitors will be the same as in the UK?

2. Is there enough capacity?

  • What production or human capacity constraints exist?
  • Has seasonality been taken into account?
  • Is a step change necessary – if so what capital outlay is required?
  • What supplier capacity constraints exist?

3. Does the potential exporter understand the time commitment?

  • Who is going to carry out the initial market research?
  • When someone is travelling abroad, who is covering for them back in the UK?
  • When the main exporter gets distracted in the UK, who will pick up export?
  • How will export momentum be maintained?

4. Are there adequate funds?

  • How much will product modifications, additional packaging and labelling cost?
  • What will be the cost of translations?
  • Who will bear the freight and insurance costs?
  • Is there a budget for overseas travelling expenses?
  • What about the costs of website enhancement, testing & approvals?
  • HaveTrademarks, Patents, Insurance, Legal and Payment costs been allowed for?

To summarise, all these should be ticked off before proceeding:

  1. There is a realistic product USP
  2. There is enough capacity
  3. The time commitment is fully understood
  4. Costs have been identified and there are adequate funds

Mike Stokes had a long exporting career and has advised new exporters since 2003. He networked prolifically to establish his own business and then in 2009 he formed his own networking group in Lincoln, The Business Club.

Whenever you hear business people say that they don’t seem to get much out of networking, it usually means one of two things – either they are not networking properly, or they are not working hard enough at it.

So why does networking not appear to work for some people?

Networking should not be treated as a selling activity

  • It should not be regarded as a “meet the buyer” session
  • Merely selling at other networkers will annoy them
  • It is a two-way information gathering process
  • Starting out by asking questions is the correct strategy
  • It is very much a marketing activity and should be evaluated as such

Events should not be approached flippantly

  • Networking is a serious business activity
  • Planning and preparation are key
  • Punctuality sets the right first impression
  • Business cards, diaries, badges, flyers, pull-up banners etc are important
  • An “elevator pitch” should be prepared and rehearsed well in advance

Working the room ensures that networking is effective

  • Colleagues should be left at the reception desk
  • Questions make the best ice-breakers
  • It is important not to stay with one person too long
  • It is desirable to earn a reputation as a people connector
  • The “elevator pitch” must be delivered clearly and slowly

Following up is essential

  • All promises must be delivered promptly
  • Contact can be maintained in a number of ways
  • Patience and persistence are fundamental
  • Networking should be evaluated as a marketing activity

So, if your networking is NOT working:

  • It must not be treated as a selling activity
  • More advance planning and preparation must be applied
  • Different “room working” techniques should be tried
  • More patient but persistent following-up should be explored

Mike Stokes had a long exporting career and has advised new exporters since 2003. He networked prolifically to establish his own business and then in 2009 he formed his own networking group in Lincoln, The Business Club.

At most networking events delegates get the opportunity to present their businesses to all or some of the other delegates. This is a shop window, a chance to make a really positive first impression – so delegates need to make good use of it.

Preparation is key, as in all business activities

  • the venue and the time must be checked, to avoid being late
  • the format is important – is it room, table or 1-to-1 ?
  • delegates should be aware of dress code, to look the part
  • an idea of the other attendees helps to structure the pitch
  • before writing the pitch, the delegate needs to confirm objectives
  • the content & timing must be right, so rehearsal is critical
  • the use of props can be most effective, to prompt or to adorn

Performance will be effective if preparation has been adequate

  • it is not wise to speak whilst dragging a chair
  • a deep breath often avoids speaking too quickly
  • the name of the delegate and business must be clear
  • the temptation must be resisted to include too much
  • it is important to concentrate on differentiators
  • other delegates need to know what the speaker is seeking
  • the pitch needs to be memorable!

A pitch is made memorable by telling people what they want to hear

  • this is my NAME and business
  • this is the BENEFIT of what I do
  • this is HOW I do it
  • just like I have for THIS CUSTOMER
  • and this is my NAME again

Mike Stokes had a long exporting career and has advised new exporters since 2003. He networked prolifically to establish his own business and then in 2009 he formed his own networking group in Lincoln, The Business Club.

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