Networking & Forming Collaborations

Whether you’re a startup or an established business, it pays to collaborate with other business owners. You may be looking to raise finances, recruit or employ new staff, expand into a new market, raise local awareness of your company, or find someone to partner with to bring new ideas to fruition. The opportunities are many. But where do you start? Well, your local business network group can prove invaluable, and can also point you in the direction of others which may be of benefit.

Collaborative networking
The saying, ‘two heads are better than one’ is a true reflection of the nature of businesses working in collaboration. Networking gives you the opportunity to enter into business partnerships, bounce ideas off others, get expert opinions, explore ways of expanding your reach, and much more. Indeed, opportunities for collaboration through networking are plentiful and include getting help and advice on how to:

• Get your startup off the ground
• Raise finance or get financial backing
• Deal with debt
• Launch a new product or service
• Develop a project
• Enter a new market
• Grow your customer base
• Increase local awareness
• Lift your company profile
• Acquire a business mentor or coach

Of course, successful collaboration doesn’t happen overnight. You have to put in the effort if you want to persuade those business leaders who have experience and influence to align with your objectives.
Have clear objectives

When going to networks, it’s a good idea to formulate a personal plan for your business. Be clear about your end goal and set out clear objectives to help you get there. When you know specifically what your needs are, you can look around for networks you think can help you to further your objectives. You may want to join a group which focuses on startups, for instance. Or, you may want to look at networks for people in trades, technology, finance, etc. You may find that a group of diverse businesses can offer you more. Don’t settle for the first networking group you find; investigate others before deciding which one(s) is best suited to your needs.
Introductions
Whether introducing yourself to an individual or a network group, it’s important to focus on who you are and on your objectives – not on selling your product or service. Rather, tell them about you, and about the benefits you provide to your customers and what you hope to achieve. Answer any questions succinctly and to the point without rambling. Keep your answers short, sweet and informative. Also, there is nothing wrong in showing a little vulnerability. For instance, you might introduce yourself and say what your business objectives are; then go on to say why you need help from the network. Don’t be surprised if people approach you afterwards with suggestions.

No quick fix
Don’t expect miracles from attending one or two network events. Networking isn’t a quick fix; it’s about making connections with other business people and building strong relationships. To that end, prepare to put the work in. Commit to attending networking meetings on a regular basis so that others can get to know you and vice versa. Unless you can show that you are someone who is reliable, honest and trustworthy, business owners won’t do any business with you far less enter into collaboration. Put another way: Would you enter into a business partnership, or refer that business owner to colleagues or customers if you didn’t know or trust their integrity? Keep that question in mind when you’re networking to keep you focused on your objective and on the outcome you are trying to achieve.
Raise your profile
If you’re a local business owner, you can elevate your status and reputation within your network, by organising and participating in local community events. You can also form closer ties with your network by embarking on joint community ventures and supporting local charities. Being visible in and out of networking events allows your network to formulate an impression of who you are and what you represent, and can help them to decide what value you will bring to the network or partnership. If they like what they see, it will be easier for them to develop trust which will make them keener to collaborate and forge a long-lasting business relationship.
Besides supporting you in achieving your objectives, networks provide extensive and varied resources to business owners. You can tap into areas of expertise and receive help and guidance on just about everything to do with business. Committing to a network’s aspirations and helping others whenever the opportunity arises will demonstrate your value to the group and attract potential business partners. There’s no doubt networking can increase your sphere of connectivity which can become a hive for collaborative opportunities.