As a small business owner, your first reaction to the idea of networking might be, “I don’t have time to network!”
Harassed by a host of competing demands, including meeting customers’ needs, managing staff, and keeping on top of a mountain of paperwork, you could be forgiven for seeing networking as an unnecessary luxury.
But consider the benefits and ask yourself, “Do I have time not to network?”
Businesses are Built on People
Networking is not a new idea. As long ago as 1905, Paul Harris founded the Rotary organisation with the aim of connecting professionals and business people for their mutual benefit. Today, there are numerous business groups from which to choose; real and virtual, local and global, cross-business and single interest. Their popularity increases all the time; proof of the tangible benefits they provide to busy people.
The reason is simple: People are at the heart of any business. Customers, staff, suppliers and all the other people, such as accountants and bank managers, who help to grow your business. The relationships that you build with people are the key to your success.
Business Building: Raising Your Profile
Networking is not usually about direct marketing–in fact, some groups have a “no selling” rule–but about raising your profile in an organic way. The more people you meet, the more your brand will become known and, crucially, the more opportunity you have to explain your brand ethos. And you give a human face to your product: no matter how much time and money you spend on advertising, people often prefer to do business with someone they have already met, or to rely on trusted friends’ recommendations.
Remember, too, that you are also a consumer. You might be on the lookout for a web designer, or someone who can draft a contract, and a discussion with a fellow-minded business contact could lead you to just the right person. You may even meet people who can make your personal life that bit easier, perhaps by organising your child’s birthday party, or arranging that trip you’ve been meaning to take.
Even if they are in the same line of business, most of the people you meet while networking are not in direct competition with you. Most business people love to help one another, and are happy to share problems, solutions and expertise. Sometimes all you want is another person to discuss your business with: Networking is a great way of combating isolation if you work on your own, or are home‑based. Knowing “what is going on” in the business world is essential in order to grab opportunities as they arise.
If you employ staff, encourage them to network, too. They will act as ambassadors for your brand, and mixing with others from their own area of expertise will help to keep them up to date with recent developments. But be prepared: they are likely to come back from events brimming with new ideas!
Whatever your type of business, you will find that networking brings real benefits in terms of building your profile and finding the right people to with whom to do business.