Networking has become one of those overused buzzwords that can make us cringe. But if you’re self-employed or a small business owner, you can’t afford to ignore the opportunities and benefits networking can offer.
Whilst typical networking events are basically speed dating for business, they can feel very contrived. Plus, everyone in that room is there to promote themselves, and not necessarily interested in shopping around. Instead, look at every interaction as a networking opportunity. But why is networking so important for your business?
Networking can put you in touch with businesses who offer services or products that complement your own, or fulfil one of your business needs. Perhaps they could stock, distribute or deliver your goods—or vice-versa? Could you could offer joint promotions or events? Maybe they offer training or printing services?
You may also meet freelancers who could offer skills you only need on a short-term, ad-hoc or remote basis. Freelancers can provide an astonishing array of services, essential to your business needs, even if not on a permanent basis.
Learning about best practice
Nobody has all the answers. There’s always something we can learn from others and that learning doesn’t have to take place in a classroom. Just discussing how you handle an aspect of your business and hearing from another business owner about how they deal with it may lead you to a flash of insight about improvements you could make. You may find someone willing to formally mentor you, too.
Learning about opportunities
Whether you’re after new offices or shop premises, or want the inside scoop on potential new contracts, having news from the inside is worth having! It’s often the early bird that gets the worm in business, so hearing about opportunities before they’re public knowledge can give you a good chance of swooping in and grabbing them.
Promoting brand awareness
The more people who know about your business, the better—and ensuring more people know exactly what you offer and where you’re based is even more important. Just knowing about your company doesn’t guarantee someone will purchase goods or services from you. But you can guarantee they won’t if they don’t know you’re there or understand what you do!
Word-of-mouth referrals and marketing
Multiple surveys have shown that people like the personal touch. They like to know the people they recommend, buy from, or do business with. If the people you meet through networking like you and/or what you do, they’re likely to remember your name and your business, and recommend you when the opportunity arises. In turn, the people they’re referring to you will be reassured by the personal connection you have with someone they know.
Nobody is suggesting you set out to deliberately poach staff, but networking does allow you to keep an ear to the employment ground. You’ll hear not only about freelancers that have impressed fellow networkers, but also about people who have approached them looking for employment and employees looking to decrease or increase hours. Maybe they’ve seen a great candidate they couldn’t take on because they were looking for more or less hours? That candidate could be a perfect fit for your business instead.
Setting up your own small business can be stressful and lonely. There’s a lot of responsibility on your shoulders and you may spend long hours working alone. Networking gives you the chance to meet other people, many in the same situation, so that you don’t feel you’re on your own. And a problem shared is a problem halved (and sometimes, solved!).
Local newspapers, your local library, local council offices, the internet and trade publications are good places to find out about local or industry-focused networking groups. Why not have a look and see if you can find one to suit you?