Business networking is a key element to growing your company. One of the main reasons business owners start networking is to get new contacts and referrals which you can follow up with and hopefully convert into customers.

You probably hear a lot that making a good first impression is vital at networking events. You need to be confident and genuine to try to establish personal relationships with people in a short amount of time, which can be a difficult task to master.

Once you’ve got over this first hurdle of making a good personal impression, the work doesn’t suddenly get any easier. You put in the time and effort to generate a new business contact, but what happens after the networking event?

Most likely you will have exchanged business cards and if that new contact has a genuine interest in your product or service they will go on to research you online.

This will cover a number of things from your business social media, your personal LinkedIn and most importantly your website. If all of these elements aren’t up to scratch, you could be losing precious leads before you’ve even had a chance to try and convert them.

What makes a website give a good first impression?

Great aesthetics

The saying might go ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ but this gets ignored when it comes to websites. The first thing that anyone takes notice of when they visit a website is the design; it takes about 50 milliseconds for users to make that judgement about your website which will determine whether they stay or leave.

That’s not a lot of time to make an impression and design can be subjective but it’s safe to say there are some things in your design that you can do to help ensure that your new contact will want to stay on your site.

Having a modern design

Old HTML websites are an immediate put-off for most customers, they make your business seem out of date and out of touch. They can also give the impression that you’re not willing to invest in updating your site and that you don’t take pride in your business.

Think of it in the same way you would going to a networking event – would you turn up in an old tattered suit? No, so why would you want to direct your new contact to an old tattered site?  

Having modern sleek design shows that you are up to date in the digital world and able to keep on top of ever-changing tech and how it is affecting all sectors of business. Most people are also visual learners, wanting aesthetic design cues to help them absorb information; if you don’t have a great design then no one is going to take the time to read any of the content on your site because it will feel like too much work.

Engaging visuals

Once you’ve got past your 50 milliseconds, you have to keep your new contact engaged so they don’t get bored and leave. Colours, images, graphics and visuals can all help you do this. Choosing relevant colours to your business can help your new contact know they are in the right place and help convey a message you can’t with words alone.

You wouldn’t necessarily want bright bold colours if you’re in a serious industry like finance or law and you wouldn’t want too serious tones if you’re trying to sell kids toys – visuals can make or break a site and either enhance or diminish the message you are trying to convey.

Images and graphics are also a great way to engage your visitor. A picture can tell a thousand words but you need to make sure that those are the right words, using cheesy stock photography or generic graphics can make your site look spammy and your business unestablished.

Engaging copy

Visuals are important but once your new visitor has decided they like the visuals enough to stay, now you have to win them over with information.

Your site isn’t just there to look good, it needs to provide answers to questions potential customers might have. Every single line of copy on your site should help your visitor learn something relevant to your business.

Talk to your customers in a way they will understand and in the language they use. Don’t overcomplicate things and use technical jargon, instead simplify your copy and make it easy to understand, using the language you would use if you were having a conversation with them.

Use data, statistics and quotes to help emphasise your point and add proof to your claims. Your website is like your salesman, it needs to convince new visitors that they should do business with you and using stats and quotes from external sources will help you to build trust and establish social proof with your new contact who doesn’t know much about your business.

Exceptional user experience

If your website is confusing, your visitors will leave. While you want to stand out from your competitors, going too far outside of the box and overcomplicating things will annoy your visitors as it will take up to much of their time to figure out where to go to get the information they need.

Your site needs to be well structured, using a clear navigation and pages with clear titles and subheadings so that information is easy to find at a glance. You should include obvious and direct call to actions to help push your new visitor along their buyer journey and give them a clear next step. This will prevent them from getting confused or frustrated trying to find the information they are after, and give you a better chance of converting them.

Page load times are another vital element of user experience. With information available to us at the touch of a button, there is a growing culture of impatience. Your new visitor is probably busy, they probably have their own business to run and don’t have time to waste waiting for your website to load. If you have met your new visitor at a networking event, do you really want to direct them to a site where they have to sit and stare at a loading screen rather than a site that loads instantaneously?

Mobile friendly

There’s a good chance that after handing your business card to a new contact at your networking event they might just look up your business there and then on their phone.

People use their mobile devices everywhere these days and more and more internet traffic is coming from them over a desktop. They are fast and easy to use and audiences from every industry want these quick connections. If your site isn’t optimised for mobile then your new contact will feel like you can’t deliver a quick and easy service. Once they’ve seen a bad mobile site there’s very little chance they are going to make the effort to look up your business on a desktop.

A mobile friendly site will also help you build your credibility with your new contact. Giving them a  proper and seamless experience will help persuade them that you are a credible and knowledgeable source of information about your industry.

These days it’s now just considered best practice to have a mobile-friendly site. There aren’t really developers around anymore that will build you a site that isn’t responsive, working on a desktop, mobile and tablet. Not having a mobile-friendly site shows your site is outdated but can also put you behind your competitors. If there is someone else at your networking event that provides a similar service and has a mobile friendly site you are setting off from the start line at a disadvantage and will have less chance of converting that new lead.

Good SEO

Mobile friendly design also improves SEO. According to Google over 50% of their searches come from mobile and if you don’t have a mobile friendly site you will be penalised in the rankings as Google does not want to send its mobile searchers to a site that will not provide a good user experience.

Great SEO is hugely beneficial for business, especially at networking events. Imagine you’re at a networking event but you’ve ran out of business cards, or you’ve handed one out but the person has lost it by the time they get back to their office. How is that new contact supposed to get in touch with you? Chances are the first thing they will do is Google ‘your business + location.’

They might remember your business name, in which case you should have a decent chance of appearing in the search results but they might have forgotten it too. In that case, they will probably search for your the type of business you have (ie. carpenter, web developer, estate agent etc) and your location in the hopes to find a site with a name that rings a bell. If you don’t have good SEO then that contact is never going to be able to find you in the results pages.

Good SEO can also help if your new contact is looking into other options in your area, if they search for your key term ‘ie. carpenter Northampton’ and your business shows up top, it can reassure them that you are a credible company worth doing business with and be a deciding factor in converting them.

Why LinkedIn and other social media are important for networking

LinkedIn

We are living in the digital age but a lot of business owners are still kicking and screaming as they are dragged into it. Not embracing new technologies and networking options gives you a clear disadvantage when trying to generate and convert leads.

LinkedIn is the social network for business owners; its strictly for professionals, no funny memes or cat videos in sight, and it’s become an imperative part of todays networking world.

All professionals should be on LinkedIn and its a great option for people to find and connect with you after a networking event, especially if they aren’t wanting to buy your product or service now but might at some later date. LinkedIn helps ease the networking processes by reinforcing the new connection beyond just an exchange of business cards and a handshake.

Through LinkedIn you can stay at the forefront of your new connections mind, you will appear on their feed and can even share helpful content that might help push them through your sales funnel. By having a LinkedIn connection with them you ensure that you are not forgotten and don’t end up just another business card thrown in a desk draw.

It can also add credibility when meeting a new contact. Your profile will show your work history and can reassure a possible lead that you have the skills and experience that you say you do. You might also find that you have mutual connections which can build trust and act as social proof.

Social Media

While LinkedIn is great for building your personal brand and for networking, having an active social media presence can help establish your company brand and provide social proof for new leads.

When making any large purchasing decisions, people and businesses want to know that they are choosing the right decision is trusting your product or service and that it is going to work for their own personal or business situation.

Nobody wants to do business with a faceless corporation and establishing Instagram, Twitter and Facebook profiles can help you show your audience and new leads your brand’s personality. You can also use it as a place to interact and engage with your customers, providing great customer service and showing that you respond to customer feedback and genuinely care about your audience.

An online presence is vital for any business no matter the industry your in. By having a well thought out presence through great website design and engaging social media profiles you can use your presence to help convert your new leads you meet through networking events, ensuring you stay at the forefront of your new contacts mind.

About Sam Sayer

Sam SayerCurrently leading DeType Ltd, a digital creative agency working with a client base across a wide range of sectors - specialising in web design and branding.

Over 12 years experience in the design industry, working for some of the leading design agencies in the Midlands on branding, motion, UX, online and print projects. Key projects include branding projects for West Cornwall Pasty Company, All Bar One, Searcys and Team GB for London 2012, and working with multi award-winning TMC, Click Travel.

One time promoter running Stimulus, a successful event for 17 years in and around the Midlands. Keen DJ when time allows, playing for the award-winning event Spectrum as well as my own ventures, though these days I'm building the sites rather than spinning the tunes!