What is Business Networking?
According to Wikipedia,
“Networking is a socioeconomic business activity by which businesspeople and entrepreneurs meet to form business relationships and to recognize, create, or act upon business opportunities, share information and seek potential partners for ventures.”
In a nutshell, Business Networking is about professional, like-minded business people helping each other to grow their businesses. Networking can and does pay dividends – but you need to work at it. Networking isn’t about selling your products or services – it’s about building long-term relationships and making the right connections to grow your business. Garnering trust is vital – you need to build trust with other business professionals and that takes time and effort. But, once that trust is established and mutual business relationships are formed, a host of business opportunities will be open to you.
“The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work.” – Robert Kiyosaki
Benefits of Business Networking
Here’s just a sample of what Professional Networking can help you with:
- Building productive and profitable business relationships
- Forging strategic alliances and joint ventures
- Building your brand
- Extending your reach to promote your brand
- Gaining increased exposure
- Acquiring more referrals and recommendations
- Organically growing revenue and margins
- Learning the ‘How to-s’ of all aspects of business
- Adding value to your business community
You’ll meet industry leaders – business professionals who have vast knowledge and experience to share with you.
“If you want to go somewhere, it is best to find someone who has already been there.” – Robert Kiyosaki
Marketing opportunities to be gained from networking are massive. Think about it. When you establish a real connection with just one other business person, you will have the potential to connect to their network of clients and business associates via word of mouth and referrals – which has far-reaching prospects.
In June 2017, the D32 Cooperative launched a 12-week initiative to reach $1M in business referrals to its network. Just 6 weeks in and that target was smashed leading D32 to increase its target to $2m. That’s an extraordinary achievement and one which will benefit its members enormously.
Finding the right Business Network for your business
Not all networks operate in the same way. Some are industry-specific such as financial institutes and trade associations, while others (like D32) offer exclusivity of profession which means you don’t have to compete with similar businesses. Also, some networks are structured whereas others are less so.
Do your homework to find one that suits. What is it you’re looking to achieve from networking? What are your business aims and ambitions? What would a network have to provide to help you meet your business needs? What would you bring to add value to the network? Write it down to help keep you focused.
When you find a network that grabs your interest, research it. Your local Chamber of Commerce is a good place to start. Ask around. Get testimonials. Go along to a couple of meetings to suss it out – most networks allow you to attend at least two meetings before you’re asked to join.
You may also find you want to join more than one network. While this can be beneficial, don’t spread yourself too thinly. You may risk being unable to fulfil commitments, which could then jeopardise your reputation and prevent others from trusting you.
Once you join, commit to making the network a success by getting involved.
Potential Barriers to Effective Business Networking
Despite networking being one of the most powerful marketing tools available for small business owners, many still put up barriers – time constraints, previous poor experience, being too shy, and so on. Considering the host of benefits that networking can bring, overcoming obstacles should be on your to-do list.
Examples of potential barriers
“I don’t have time.”
This may seem feasible but it’s based on a false premise. Networking is about investing your time wisely to possibly reach more people than you would from your office. At a networking group, you can get your message to many people within a short time span. Remember, you’ll also have the potential of connecting with their network through personal recommendations and referrals – and word-of-mouth referrals are marketing gold.
“People influence people. Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral influences people more than the best broadcast message. A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising.” – Mark Zuckerberg
Business community forums such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter are also a great way to boost your networking efforts. However, networking via social media can also be time-consuming and shouldn’t be looked on as a substitute for meeting people face-to-face (unless you’re working remotely and it’s not easy to meet people).
This method works best if used together with face-to-face networking.
By taking the time to build relationships and connections, you’re positioning you and your company for future referrals and business development opportunities.
“I get nervous meeting new people.”
Having the opportunity to ‘advertise’ to a captive audience of like-minded professionals is a great incentive for conquering anxiety. Remember, other people will feel nervous too. Networking can be a valuable personal development platform – use it to build your confidence and advance yourself.
To help, attend a networking event with a plan in mind. Contact the local organiser and explain your fears. They will be happy to make introductions for you. You can also set yourself small and realistic goals such as aiming to meet at least two people and engage in a five-minute conversation with each. And, if you see someone on their own, introduce yourself. Start with “Hi, I’m Jane, mind if I join you?” Then ask them about their business.
A conversation will soon start to flow. You’ll probably be helping them too. With practice, you’ll soon bloom with confidence.
“Networking didn’t work for me.”
Did you give it a chance to work? What were you looking for? – Sales, referrals, or something else? Were you disappointed at not receiving referrals fast enough? Remember, networking isn’t a quick fix; you must put the work in first.
Nurturing relationships is the only way to build trust with other business people and receive referrals. Perhaps it was the wrong type of network for you? Or, maybe you felt the network didn’t live up to its promises?
Did you do your homework first?
One of D32’s members who was unhappy with previous “dodgy” experiences of networking, freely admits he “stalked” our network for 12 months before joining! – his homework and persistence paid off with new clients onboard in a short space of time.
“Networking has nothing to offer my business, so why bother?”
Oh, how wrong this is. Business networking works because of the massive benefits it brings not only to your business but to you too. The saying, ‘two heads are better than one’ is a true reflection of like-minded people getting together in networking. You can learn so much from other business owners – you can learn how to:
- maximise your business potential
- use digital solutions for greater efficiencies and monitoring progress
- extend your reach
- acquire referrals
- recruit and retain staff
- launch a new product or service
- raise financial backing
- deal with debt
- enter a new market
- grow your customer base
- lift your profile and increase local awareness
If you haven’t tried networking, why not give it a go? You’ve nothing to lose and much to gain. If you have tried, what were your expectations? Don’t base your decisions on one or two experiences. Take heed of the adage: ‘If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try and try again’. Patience, persistence and perseverance are virtues when networking.
Business networking can have enormous benefits for you and your business, so don’t allow these or other barriers to stop you. Work on solutions. Either find a way around obstacles or work through them. Network to grow your business and expand your horizons.