There’s one business tool that is vital to a small business through every stage of its development and management: networking. Small business owners use networking skills right from the beginning to find investors, partners, customers and suppliers.
It’s a skill that can really make or break a business, but so often it is approached in the wrong way.
Not everyone is a natural networker. There are people who can comfortably hold their poise in a social function, and others who are more introverted and might struggle to make the same relationships. But being able to network effectively presents countless opportunities and therefore is something that needs to be mastered.
The networking landscape is dynamic and constantly changing. So it’s important to stay on top of trends and expectations so that you don’t end up tarnishing your business opportunities.
While there are more and more ways to network online, traditional, face-to-face networking is still the most common and powerful way to establish relationships.
The first step is finding out how to get involved in networking events. This will take some research. You could start by heading out to your local Business Enterprise Centers or chamber of commerce to make some contacts.
Get the word out.
Use your existing business networks to make new connections and get involved at new events. It’s important to get the word out that you are looking for new opportunities.
If you have a small business plan and are looking for investors, make sure your contacts know you are on the look-out for interested parties. Similarly, if you’re expanding your business into new markets, spread the word that you’re targeting a specific market so that your colleagues can help.
Don’t get pigeon-holed.
Don't get locked into only attending your own industry events. Expose yourself to a whole new market of potential customers by involving yourself in networks outside of your own.
For example, instead of just attending annual conferences within your industry, think about sponsoring the annual conference for the industry from which lots of your customers come from.
You might find yourself in a sea of new potential customers without competition from other small businesses in your field.
The internet is being used more and more to benefit business people and there are now lots of business-networking sites you should be taking advantage of. Online social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter are great resources for beginning relationships and for finding out about networking events.
Also search the web for industry-specific online networks, websites, blogs which you can connect with. They will help find out about events, make contacts and be kept up-to-date with business news in your area.
A recent trend taking off is the online network for female entrepreneurs and business women. Sites such as www.womeninbusiness.com.au are excellent for growing your business contacts.
Develop a strategy.
Once you’ve targeted where the opportunities for networking are, you need to focus on exactly how you’ll go about your networking. You need a strategy.
Networking used to be all about handing out as many business cards as possible and then waiting by the phone. These days it’s about quality rather than quantity.
You want to develop real relationships with people. Don’t forget that instigating a business relationship is a two-way street; you’re not just on the look out for how you can help your business, it has to be a win for both parties.
The best way to go about networking is to converse casually without barraging the person with your business details and pleas for some help.
The event is a way to make a connection. The important part is the follow-up.
Make sure you swap business cards at the event with anyone you can see potential in, and follow it up afterwards with a personal letter or phone call, where you broach the idea of doing business together.
Sometimes it may seem a bit daunting, but getting out there and networking effectively can really help your business get to the next level. There are plenty of opportunities around, it’s up to you to get out and find them.What works for you in networking? Come share your experience in the KBB Facebook Forum.