I don’t know how many times I have heard small business owners say, “what’s the point of networking”?
They say they barely have time to complete their monthly invoices, order stock, manage staff, or any number of critical business functions, so where are they going to find the time to sit down and speak to other business owners? What’s the point of it anyway?
Attending a networking event can be the critical stepping stone your business needs to catapult you into the successful business stratosphere. Networking in an informal environment can open a multitude of opportunities, so let’s look at the benefits.
The goal of networking events, generally speaking, is to meet and collaborate with like minded business owners. As I see your eyes glaze over, hear me out!
These events are a gold mine of opportunity, as discussion with other business owners allows you to keep up to date with industry trends, and to keep your finger on the pulse with competitors. Staying ahead of developments is critical in staying competitive in the marketplace.
Business functions focusing solely on sales are all well and good, however, if as small business owners, you’re not staying ahead of the game and well-informed, your business may simply fall by the wayside. Networking is a great way to drum up sales, either directly through members, or indirectly, through referrals from members.
While we strongly encourage you to avoid pushing sales onto members of the network, because freankly, that's just annoying, we do know that simply by connecting with others and sharing help and ideas, you can easily generate leads because you're creating valuable professional relationships.
Regular contact with local businesses will help you to grow more solid connections.
While you are not at an event to sell to the person opposite you, they may need you or your product in the future. This can lead to more sales and future referrals. Likewise, a contact through networking is more likely to introduce you to someone you wish to contact or refer your business when they have a relationship with you. Thus, leading to more positive referrals for your business and increased word of mouth, which is one of the main drivers of increased sales.
Taking the time to network, connect and collaborate is just another method of getting sales, and often, it leads to much more fruitful opportunities than a lot of other methods, because you've built a solid relationship already.
Networking events allow for learning opportunities, whether intended or not. Many events feature successful industry speakers, expert advisors or panel discussions. Others are great for peer-to-peer learning and industry updates. However, even those networking events that are more casual in format, can lead to some insightful discoveries.
Listening to an accomplished industry speaker enables new ideas for business, can provide invaluable advice and gives you insight through their experiences. Likewise, sharing ideas with your peers on difficult projects or business operations can improve processes and save money in the long run. All businesses can learn from different concepts, approaching a task differently, or using new strategies and you won't really understand the advantage this gives you in your business until you've experienced having a network.
You're smart and driven, probably a great problem solver too. Now imagine having a group of similar minds tackling the same problem. You'll progress through issues faster, gain confidence and grow your business more rapidly and more effectively than if you were to go it alone.
Networking helps you to forge strong relationships with other business owners, however you don't always have to talk shop! What you'll find in time is that you create friendships as well as professional relationships as you continue to connect with your network. You might find that you meet for coffee one on one and don't discuss business at all, or you check in with one another every so often before getting stuck into the business side of things:
"How'd you go with that website issue you were having?"
"Are you feeling any better this week, I know you were a bit ill when we spoke last?"
"Ugh. If I have to do one more zoom meeting this week!"
Sound familiar? Even if not, you can imagine how it might be nice to relate to someone every now and then about these things? Running your own business can be lonely and frustrating at the best of times, and while the people you meet might not become your 'bestie', generally speaking they have either been through similar to what you're going through, or are going through it now! So it can be really nice to feel that solidarity while you're running your business.
Some people love being completely open and bonding with others to create friendships with people in their network, others prefer to keep things strictly business and that's more than okay too. Even if you're a bit of a lone-wolf, networking events can be highly motivating and in many cases can inspire change. When you are in a room with other high achievers sharing new concepts, it would be challenging not to leave motivated and ready to take on new challenges.
Even on a pragmatic level, being connected to a strong network of professionals, you will be able to get important insights into critical business tasks and issues.
Networks can assist you in brainstorming ideas, which some business owners would not have the opportunity to explore if not for their network. Your network allows for a strong sounding board for all business ideas and challenges, and having a network that's local and not industry-specific, can lead to some creative solutions.
If anything, it means you don't have to go it alone. Small business owners spend a lot of time at their place of business, often in small teams and at times on their own. Networking events can break up your day and provide the change of scenery needed to refresh your thoughts for the working week. Socialising with others has many benefits such as relationship building and an increase in positive mental health and wellbeing.
Getting together with your network is the perfect opportunity to meet new connections, service providers, stockists, contractors, and even staff. Attendees of networking events are professionals and specialists in their field, so you get the chance to get to know them and have a genuine feel for them before you've engaged their services. Rather than contacting a random stranger for whatever you require and hoping for the best, you can chat to them directly before you've even decided on the activity you have in mind, and it's likely others within the network will be able to give you an honest review of their services too.
They say if you look hard enough, there's a solution for everything, and in business, there's a service for everything too - and you don't need to look that hard to find them all.
The great thing about networking, is that you can share your challenges and aspirations with others and it will very likely lead to either some great ideas for solutions, or a great business providing a relevant service that can help you with your problem.
Whether you're looking for staff, marketing advice, business coaching, accounting and finance advice, help with your processes, legal consulation, products, logistics or just about anything else you can think of, there's likely to be someone who can help you, or someone who knows someone who can help you!
That's the beauty of networking, it's actually all about giving. So if you need help or are confused about something, your network should be jumping to help you out.
Networking events are full of people who have solved a multitude of problems within their own business and are willing to help others. Taking a business problem to a networking event is the perfect opportunity to dissect it and have others help you solve it.
There is nothing more satisfying than having your problem solved by your network, except maybe being the one who assisted in solving the problem!
It's common knowledge that you get what you give in networking, so don't be afraid to share, and don't be afraid to offer assistance. While networking has been often associated with cheesy events and has the reputation of individuals selling themselves, its more about helping others and allowing others to help you.
Many successful businesses have been built on strong networks, word of mouth marketing and referrals. If we think of networking more about sharing, rather than taking, this opens opportunity for the whole network.
By sharing your ideas and contacts with others, you will in turn receive the same, as relationships grow and problems are solved, your business is more likely to be mentioned to others and their network becomes yours too!
People love being asked for advice and connecting with your trusted network can help solve the problems, decisions and challenges all businesses face. Discussing business challenges with your network can speed up decision making time and allows you to bounce ideas of a likeminded parties in the industry. These contacts will then think of you next time they are facing an issue and need an extra helping hand.
These occasions offer opportunities to raise your profile and the profile of your business. Building your reputation of being knowledgeable, reliable and hardworking individual will find you growing your network and the reputation of your business.
New and valuable knowledge is shared at networking events. These events are a great opportunity to exchange the latest best practices and learn about the newest industry trends. A broad range of networks gives you a front row seat in the sharing of new and valuable information for your small business.
Building a strong and reliable network is a fabulous way to build your own confidence and gain a different perspective. By continually ‘putting yourself out there’ you build confidence within yourself and your business decisions.
Sharing information and business practices can allow you to gain confidence in your decisions, knowing your network supports you. Networks can allow you to gain a different perspective when approaching certain business challenges.
Not only do you build your own confidence, in yourself and your business, but your influence and trust within your network will grow through your good work and reputation, so others will feel confident in you too!
We can all get caught up in the ordinary day-to-day, however sharing information with fresh eyes can allow for a different angle to increase sales, incorporate fresh business practices and shake up the mundane.
We know networking can:
It's obvious that when businesses are looking for a product, service or new candidate, we go with what we know and those with a strong business network will look within their networks first before looking elsewhere.
So just do it, take the plunge and attend your first networking event, you won’t regret it!
In preparation for your first networking event, have some topics you wish to discuss, you may have a problem or issue you want to examine and of course, don’t forget your business cards! If you're really unsure, check out our article How to Prepare for a Networking Event or see our Networking Tips for Small Business Owners in Victoria blog for advice and information.
Our Facebook group is always open to new members and you can get a bit of an idea of about the network before coming along to an event. The group is a fantastic resource for networking and information, but it's the events that really allow business owners to get the most benefits, so see what's coming up and register your spot today.
If you're ready to grow your network today and understand the many great benefits of networking for small businesses here in Victoria, then join now and list your business in the directory to get started.