More and more people are starting a business, often literally on their own. This means that business networking is becoming increasingly necessary and popular. And it really can be a crucial part of small business success, both for start-ups and established businesses, whether you work from an office or have a home business, whether you run a part time business or a full time one.
How does it do this?
Community: networking creates a community of like-minded motivated individuals who can support each other through the tough times as well as the good. Running a business is often a one-man or one-woman job, and this kind of support can make all the difference between whether a small business succeeds or fails.
More customers: it sounds almost too obvious to mention, but regularly attending business networking meetings enables you to get to know a wide group of people, some of whom are very likely to go on to become your customers or clients, or who know people they will recommend you to. Regular networking over a period of time literally means that you hugely widen the number of people who know about what you do.
More confidence: networking meetings give you more confidence in talking to other people about what you do, both through informal chats and through more structured processes such as giving short presentations or speed networking.
Motivation and inspiration: many small business owners spend a great deal of time on their own, and have to motivate and inspire themselves. At times, this can be next to impossible to do, and a downward negative spiral in mood and productivity can be the result, particularly when things aren’t going well. So many times I’ve gone to a networking event not feeling that great, and have come away feeling re-motivated, re-inspired, refreshed and full of the joys of life.
Help with challenges: challenges are inevitable in business as well as in life, and sole traders often have to work through them on their own. Other people’s support and advice can be absolutely invaluable (sometimes we can’t see the wood for the trees in these kinds of situations) and can make a huge difference to outcomes. This support might come in the form of an informal chat with someone, advice during a masterminding session or a business talk provided at the meeting.
Education and training: If only there was a school on how to run a small business! In the absence of that, some networking organisations provide free business talks and events that can help to plug that gap. They also have access to information about training provided by other organisations that is available to small businesses for free or at very low cost.
Collaboration: it is very common for people to meet at networking events and subsequently join forces on a new business venture that provides a new source of income for them both.
Skills swaps: when using each other’s services, people who get to know each other at networking events sometimes exchange skills instead of paying each other. This can cut costs.
Keeping your finger on the pulse: there is a lot going on out there that can help small business owners, but you need a way of getting access to this kind of information. Networking organisations can provide this.
Access to tried and tested experts: no small business can go it alone, none of us have the skills or time to do everything ourselves. We need other people to help us with areas such as accounts, IT and marketing. But it can feel like a lottery sometimes trying to find people who can help you but who won’t charge the earth or deliver a bad service. At networking groups you can get trusted leads because other people in the network have used these people before. Be wary of networking organisations that require you to make referrals and find work for other members in the however – this can make it impossible to trust the referral.
Last but not least, the element of surprise: you just never know what might happen as a result of going to business networking meetings. You may meet a journalist who loves what you do, and writes a great article about your service or product that gets published in a major newspaper or magazine that results in massive exposure for your business. You may meet a new business partner (or even a romantic partner!). Someone may feel inspired to give you a few hours of their time for free to help you with a particularly thorny challenge you’re facing, or you may meet the perfect business coach for you, who will make a huge difference to your business. Some little thing someone says at a meeting – whether it’s another attendee, or a speaker at a talk, may inspire you in a new creative idea that turns out to be perfect for you.