There are many different ways to spend your money when you're running a business, so why would you choose to invest in something like business networking? It's simple really ...
You will spend time meeting, getting to know, and interacting with other like-minded business owners. That could be interesting and encouraging, but will it really help your business to grow? So, the answer to why choose business networking is a resounding 'yes' and here's why.
Business networking involves much more than attending social events. You will meet people who can help you, and you can help them in return. This makes networking effective because you are building long-term relationships based on trust and mutual respect.
Like any other worthwhile relationship, your business network will need your time and energy to grow. However, for small or start-up businesses, networking provides access to support, experienced professionals who can help you to find solutions to your business problems, and new business opportunities.
It's important to begin your networking journey with realistic expectations. You won't walk into a room full of strangers and immediately achieve high-value sales. If you try to sell to the room, you will find it hard to build the important relationships you need.
To be a successful business networker you must be prepared to give support, as well as receive it. Then you will benefit from:
- help with problem-solving - if someone in your immediate network doesn't have the skills you need to solve a problem, just ask if they know anyone who can. Someone will almost certainly have a contact and will be happy to provide an introduction. In practice, very few business problems are unique, so there's a very good chance you will already know someone who can help.
- opportunities to do business - networking is more than a sales opportunity. You will often meet people and organisations that can create new business opportunities, allowing you to start new collaborations and partnerships.
- developing your skills - as part of your networking experience you will learn how to present the unique selling points of your business and how to listen and learn about what other people need. These are important skills for every business owner and you can perfect them in a safe environment.
- building your reputation - networking provides helpful business advice and solutions for you and opportunities for you to help others. There's no better recommendation for your business than a testimonial from someone you have helped. Ideally, they will share an online review that will confirm the quality of your work with a wider audience.
- recruitment - when you're ready to add a new employee to your team you can ask your networking colleagues for recommendations. Ask for introductions to people with specific skills and you will have the reassurance that someone you trust knows a person who can add value to your business.
- benchmarking - networking with other business owners who are at a similar stage in their journey can help you to explore new ideas and give you an indication of your strengths and where you can improve.
- new market sectors - through the knowledge and contacts of your networking colleagues you can discover new customers or suppliers that you might not have considered or met.
- professional development - many business networking groups have formal training opportunities and you can also learn about changes that could affect your business if there are IT professionals, specialist accountants, or HR experts in the group, for example.
The benefits you will gain from business networking will depend on the networks you choose and how actively you're involved. For your colleagues to learn about you and your business you will also need to be open and honest about your motivations and goals.
Most importantly, you should be prepared to give help and advice freely to others.