Quality over quantity
It might seem strange for the first point in this article to recommend that you don’t solely aim for having a huge list of contacts, but growth doesn’t necessarily equate to more. Networking is about building rapport and creating depth through your connections, it’s not a matter of collecting the highest number of contacts.
Interacting with other small business owners to learn from and influence is a vital component of any successful small business. That said, the quality of your network and the relationships you nurture should be genuine and mutually beneficial. If you have 500+ connections on LinkedIn, it’s not going to matter one bit if they’re irrelevant to your business and don't care for your products or services. you might as well create a list of made up names if that's the case.
A dozen authentic connections will provide greater value over 1000 superficial contacts in almost any circumstance, just remember: you’re cultivating, not collecting.
Another important thing to consider when growing your network is being receptive to contacts that don’t immediately serve a need for you. Without even realising it, you may be narrowing your network by discounting people who don’t match certain criteria or holding onto certain perceptions. Be open and receptive to opportunities that you may not have even considered just yet.
Just because you don’t have a need for an accountant right this minute doesn’t mean you should write off Sonia before she’s even said hello, she may have some valuable insight that could help your business or an anecdote that you can relate to on a personal level. Jack might own a business that’s completely foreign to you, but you can relate to staffing issues he’s had and actually have some pretty valuable advice he could use.
Support comes in many forms and we often learn our lessons from the most unlikely teachers. Be open to people from all walks of life and don’t discriminate or pigeonhole yourself just because you can’t see the benefit right away.
Give in order to receive
And that really feeds into the golden rule of networking, “you’ve gotta give a little to get a little”. Networking is a slow burn, it's about forming trust and helping one another to reach goals.
Regularly engaging with your contacts and finding opportunities to assist them helps to strengthen the relationship and sows seeds for reciprocal assistance when you need help to achieve your goals. It also just feels really nice to help others navigate the wild and wonderful journey that is operating a small business in Victoria.
Don't just copy and paste your website link into Facebook Groups or spam people's inbox with your business details, it's not nice and it's unlikely to get you anywhere. It's the digital equivalent of standing outside your house with a megaphone; sure, it might miraculously work once or twice, but most people are going to feel harrassed and ignore you. If you keep going, they might avoid walking down that street altogether.Analagies aside, networking provides based on what you give, so lend a hand, offer support and listen to others. Try to have real conversations with people and you'll soon discover you're also being helped, supported and listened to, in kind.
What goes around, comes around, right?
Talk about other things
Hobbies, pets, family, music, coffee. It doesn’t always have to be about work, in fact, a lot of professional relationships are a combination of reciprocity and connectivity. And what connects us more as people than the things we love?
Attend a webinar with a new contact or keep the conversation going with them about some of life’s little usual ups and downs; From little things, big things grow, and a few small interactions about your mutual love for footy or, when Victoria is a little less restricted, catching up for a coffee or golf keeps you in good stead and also just makes networking all that more enjoyable.
It also opens you up to their broader network and provides a better work life balance while you grow potential opportunities for your business. It doesn’t matter if you reply quickly to emails or have an array of benefits you could bring to their business, if you’re challenging to work with or hard to get along with, people are going to go elsewhere.
You obviously don’t have to become best friends with everyone you meet while networking and you certainly don’t have to bare your soul at every networking meet, but making sure you’re known for more than your name or business will make you more approachable and accessible for business opportunities.
Attending events is a great way to meet new people and get back into networking. It might be a little daunting at first but everyone is there for the same reason and every body has been the 'newbie' at some point, so there's no need to feel intimidated.
There’s really no excuse these days as we’ve all been forced online and there’s so many different networking events and opportunities no matter your comfort level or set up. You don't even need to worry about parking or shelling out for coffee if you're joining a Zoom meet or webinar from your home. In most cases, you can even wear your trackies! How good is that?
The Victorian Small Business Network holds a range of workshops and networking events and our attendance list is growing every day! Check out our events and register today. We'd love to see you there!
Heading to events is a great way to get out there and get amongst other small business owners, but what happens once the event has ended? How can someone who’s interested in your products access more information about your business? Especially at the moment, when we can’t be meeting in person and exchanging business cards, where can other business owners find you to connect and keep in touch?
Establishing an online presence to support your business as well as your networking activities has become more important than ever. Whether you use LinkedIn, Facebook or other online platforms, social media is an essential tool you can use to grow your network and increase the quality of your professional relationships. Make sure your social profiles have been filled in with relevant information and are accessible to businesses who are interested in connecting.
Okay, you’ve attended a few events and you’ve got your profiles decked out on social platforms, that’s great, but now what?
Perhaps one of the most useful things you can do to actually grow your network is reach out to others. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? It’s just funny how often we sit back and wait for things to come our way, without really doing much on our part to make new connections and encourage more authentic interactions.
There’s actually a tonne of different ways you can reach out to others and plant those little seeds for later. One simple way is to utilise the functions of Facebook on LinkedIn and join groups and online communities that interest you and support your business.
There are some great social media groups where you can digitally mingle with other business owners, communities specific to your industry, or local groups to meet others and get free support and information – all while growing your network.
It’s also a great idea to use LinkedIn to connect with business owners, mentors and potential business opportunities. Use the search function to look up people who you’d like to connect with and reach out to them with a message introducing yourself and tell them why you’d like to connect.
Be honest and keep it simple, don’t overdo it or ask too much of them besides a connection, you’re just saying hello after all. The worst thing they’re likely to do is ignore it or politely decline and compared to the benefits that’s a small risk for the reward of growing your network.
The Victorian Small Business Network has a strong Facebook community where you can ask business-related questions, chat with other members and get involved in events and workshops. You can also find us on LinkedIn, YouTube and of course, here on the VSBN website.
The truth is, it’s easy to get pulled away from networking and disregard its importance when there’s so many pressing matters begging for our attention each day.
We all get busy and some people find networking more difficult than others, so try to keep in mind that networking is an important part of business and maintain networking as an ongoing business task, particularly if it’s not as enjoyable for you. Like any relationship in life, neglecting your network and being inconsistent with your contacts can be detrimental.
Try to be consistent and check in with contacts every now and then. Nurturing relationships with your contacts is mutually beneficial, it keeps you in the forefront of their mind, keeps you connected to the world and helps give you a good dose of accountability every now and then. You’re always going to recommend reliable people to others, so be a reliable person that they’d be happy to recommend.
Become a member
The Victorian Small Business Network is designed to help Victorian small businesses grow with events and education designed to support and empower small businesses. As a member, you get free access to exclusive events and discounted resources, as well as your own listing in the VSBN Directory, the most comprehensive and fastest growing Small Business Directory in Victoria. It’s a sure-fire way to meet other business owners and grow your network.