Small Business Networking: helping you shake hands with your future
You start a business because you’re good at something or you have a great idea that you can implement. Quickly you discover that getting set up, leasing an office, creating a Facebook page and putting a logo on the car does not create a successful business.
So what do you do now?
In a nutshell: Be sociable!
As a business owner, you can gain power from simple small business networking habits.
No matter what field you’re in, a strong network of contacts – including different professions, personalities and skill sets – can give you a BIG advantage over competitors who don’t connect with other people.
Getting started is simple; to begin with, there are numerous small business networking groups around the country. Search online for a couple nearby that interest you. Get in touch, find out when they meet and go along! Don’t feel daunted, you’ll quickly realise that everybody is in the same boat and happy to welcome new members.
Expect to pay for a breakfast/lunch etc. and perhaps a small admin fee but, initially steer well clear of elite groups that charge huge annual fees and hold their functions at expensive restaurants or lavish venues. You really don’t need to be this lavish!
Once you have made a few contacts and got to know them better, you may choose to organise functions or small business networking meetings or events yourself. This is where you can really start to make a name for yourself. (See point 2 in Good Habits section below)
Alternatively, you may feel more comfortable organising regular individual catch ups. This is a very good way to really strengthen your business relationships quickly.
And remember, business networking doesn’t have to be all about business – there is nothing to stop you doing a leisure activity; as they say, some of the best business decisions have been made on the golf course! Just remember to retain a degree of professionalism.
So whether you’re crowd pleaser or a quiet achiever, before you get started, some ground rules for small business networking:
- Relationships are not developed overnight. Be patient and consistent.
- If your idea of networking is just to see what you can get out of people, then stop reading here and don’t bother! Networking is about GENUINE, mutually beneficial relationships.
- Think about other people’s needs and interests. If you don’t have something interesting to share with them right now, would someone else you know be able to help? Get those people together!
- You’ll have to give and share. The resulting trust and respect you earn will come back to you.
And a few small business networking ‘good habits’:
- Keep your promises: If you have promised to provide someone with information or a contact, do so as quickly as possible. This proves you are efficient and keep your promises.
- Listen and learn: You can’t learn anything if you’re talking! Learn to focus more on instigating conversation from others. Make sure you listen to what they say and give them your full attention.
- Do your homework: If you are going to a meeting and don’t know anything about the people attending, do some homework. Learn simple facts about their businesses online. A little bit of knowledge will help you engage easily and shows you are genuinely interested.
- The right mindset: Approach small business networking with the attitude: “What can I do for you?” rather than the other way around. This mindset will stand you in good stead.
- Be Strategic: If you do have input into functions, think strategically about the people you introduce and the environment you introduce them in. To bring together the right people in the right place is personally rewarding and very good for your reputation.
- What’s your story? Finely polish a short, informative introduction to yourself and your business. This ensures that when asked what you do, you not only outline what that is exactly but also impart a sense of professionalism.
- Follow up: Always remember to follow up with the people you meet. A simple courtesy email is good manners and a great way to keep the lines of communication open.
- Make time: Ensure you schedule adequate time to attend networking functions. It’s no good to drop in and out or clock watch the entire time you are there. You appear disorganised and disinterested – two traits that you definitely do not want to be known for.