By it's most basic definition, networking for business is about intentionally staying connected with other professionals to grow your business. It is about creating relationships rather than handing out or collecting business cards. Good networking is a low cost way of marketing your business. But it means taking part in real conversations and meeting up with likeminded people to create new opportunities. For some, this comes naturally and is an almost innate skill or habit they practice daily. For others, especially those who may be new to networking or those who have a more introverted personality, networking can be a new and somewhat daunting concept.
So how do you go about networking your business?
A lot of people tend to ask, "What's the best way to network?"
The fact is, there's really no single definitive answer to this question.
Firstly, it depends on what you want to get out of it and the goals you have in mind for your business. Secondly, it depends on your personal preferences and style. What might be the best way of working for Arthur, may not apply to Martha, and that's okay.
A good starting point for many people looking to network, particularly those who are a little adverse to diving into the deep end, is to consider the environment that makes you most comfortable.
What brings out the best in you and makes the most out of your natural strengths? Where do you feel most at ease meeting new people?
You may be comfortable taking part in shared activities that allow you to bond over a common interest, like networking dinners or industry-specific meet ups. Just check the details of your event because some groups have rules around attendance, strict roles for participants and guests and some have themes or certain 'rituals' of sorts, but don't be put off, these are generally designed to help facilitate the networking process.
For the hungry socialites, breakfast brunches are a great way to network for a relaxed vibe and coffee fuelled conversation (even if you. We've had some amazing brunch meet ups at VSBN, get in touch to find out when the next one in your area will be.
If attending an event in person sounds like your version of hell, or you just want to dip your toe in to begin with, then you might prefer to network entirely online, using social media and video conferencing software to virtually meet people all over the world. If you haven't already, join us on Facebook, LinkedIn or better yet, come to one of our virtual Grow Your Network events. We always have a great turn out, awesome attendees and it's free to come along! The best part is, you don't even have to leave your house!
It is important to set realistic expectations about what you want to achieve when networking. Align your expectations with your business goals to help identify genuine opportunities.
Beware of expecting an immediate return on the investment you make in networking. This is just not how it works. Building a network isn't about pushing your products onto people or making a quick buck. It takes time to build relationships and it takes time to realise the benefits from them. So, like any relationship, it's two sided.
If you are only networking for what you can get out of the relationship, people will pick up on that and you will come across as fake rather than as a passionate, authentic business person. Think of it this way, you're not trying to make a sale, you're trying to make an acquantaince.
Like any relationship, professional, dating or otherwise, it's about communication, common goals, shared knowledge and ongoing effort. Remember, you get what you give!
There are many networking websites and events across Victoria. You can connect with other business owners and entrepreneurs through the Victorian Small Business Network or by doing a quick Google search for networking groups and events near you. You can always join broader online networking groups or attend niche events relevant to your business, but when starting out, it can be best to stay close to home so you find and connect with businesses relevant to yours. Here's a list of things you can do to build a solid foundation for networking with small businesses in Victoria.
Follow these networking tips and tricks to make a positive, professional impression:
And perhaps most importantly:
Networking isn't a sport and it's certainly not something that should bring you too much stress or worry, so make sure you have fun with it. It's normal to feel nervous or anxious when entering social situations, particularly with strangers but keep in mind they're there for the same reasons you are. The reality is, even the most experienced networker started at exactly where you are now, so just smile, be yourself and get ready to network. There's something to be said for the feeling of connectivity and camaraderie that can come from networking, especially when you've been running a small business in Victoria. To many, this support is worth more than the business opportunities, education and knowledge, and lead generation combined.
Join the Victorian Small Business Network today and get connected.