Networking for small businesses
It’s a fact – some people just love to network. It is one of those skills that just seems to come naturally to some, while it can be an uncomfortable and difficult process for others.
But however you feel about it, it is an unavoidable and necessary part of running your own business. Business is, essentially, about the quality of the relationships you build with other people, and networking is the key to doing this effectively. Without developing an ever growing network of contacts you won’t be able to grow your business, you won’t be able to form strategic partnerships with other people in your sector and you won’t win new business.
And most importantly, we also don’t think that you will be able to have fun – your business should, at the end of the day, be something that is enjoyable. So, with all that in mind, here are our thoughts on how to network when you’re running a small business.
Get out of the office.
Being in charge of your own small company – whether you are a sole trader or in charge of a team of ten – can be an intense and all consuming experience. It can be incredibly easy to focus only on the tasks that are right in front of you, and to forget that sometimes you also need to concentrate on growing your business too. In a very practical sense, this could mean that you are simply putting long hours in at the office, or you find that you are constantly dealing with daily operational matters.
Our advice here is simply to get out more. Book yourself in to a local networking event (go to an early morning breakfast one if you really can’t spare the time). Or, if you’re a freelancer, working for yourself, then go and work in a shared workspace with other freelancers for a few days a week, rather than working on your own. You’ll be surprised at the connections you’ll begin to make, simply by changing your routine a little.
Be generous, and don’t be desperate
So, now you are out there, what is your best approach? It is often all too easy to begin to see every interaction you have with a new contact as a potential route to building your own business, but we’d argue that this is completely the wrong approach to take.
Quite apart from anything else it will put people off – if you come across as someone who is always looking for an angle or a way to get something out of a new meeting, then it is quite possible that it won’t lead anywhere.
Our advice instead is just to approach networking opportunities with a generous attitude. Think about what you can do to help the people you meet, rather than how they can help you and your business. Focus simply on building the relationship, rather than trying to force it into becoming something transactional. And value every interaction, by giving it your full attention – in networking things rarely happen straightaway, so give the new relationship the time and respect it deserves.
Follow up, and manage your contacts effectively
One of the most wonderful things about the connected age we now live in is just how easy it is to stay connected with the people we meet when we network.
So, if you have just been along to an event and seen a keynote speaker who you found really inspiring, tweet about it. Even better, fire them a direct message and tell them what you thought of what they said. Or, if you’ve just had a quick ten minute chat with someone at a coffee shop who works in the same sector, then look them up on LinkedIn and see if they want to connect.
It is also really important to keep track of this growing network of connections in some way. Of course, social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter make this relatively easy, but however you do it, it is a crucial part of making the most of your new network. Keeping a thorough record in this way helps you to see unexpected connections between new people, and will help you to keep track of the status of the relationships you’re building.
The big message here is that it pays to follow up with people. Sometimes these new connections won’t lead anywhere – but you will never find out if you don’t make the initial link in the first place.
So, get out there, meet some new people – and enjoy growing your business.