Any budding entrepreneur should have an eye towards growth. From new starters to business veterans, networking will often contribute to your success if it’s done right. In this article, the seventh in our series focusing on how to grow your business, we’re going to discuss what networking is, why it is important and how it can help small business owners to build up their company.
While it may seem like a toothless business buzzword, networking is actually a form of marketing. In simplistic terms, it could be defined as making use of business connections to create new opportunities and drive sales or growth. The obvious advantage of networking is it’s a relatively inexpensive approach to getting your business out there. It’s also a way of building fresh channels of communication through existing business relationships, creating new opportunities.
Where do you network?
Traditionally, networking has been performed through face-to-face conversation, either in formal gatherings such as corporate events and conferences, or in informal settings such as corporate parties and general discussions amongst peers. Even in this digital age, the tradition has endured.
According to a survey by Forbes, 84% of those surveyed stated that when it comes to making business connections, they prefer face-to-face meetings. Networking events, in particular, still play an essential role in fostering relationships with influential figures across industries.
A more direct approach is to cold call potential clients either through phone calls, emails or by visiting them for face-to-face discussions. This can still be a particularly powerful tool for growing businesses that are part of a local economy.
But despite the traditional methods of networking still being favoured, there’s no doubt that social media has changed networking.
Networking on social media
For SMEs with a negligible marketing budget, this is an area to focus on. Websites such as LinkedIn are perfect for entrepreneurs looking to grow their business and network. Social media allows you to build a profile of a potential contact before you even try and connect with them. You can see what articles they like, what topics they are engaged in and what piques their interest. This is not only helpful when building relationships via online platforms – by, for example, sharing content or directly engaging with them – but it can equip you to approach them in a face-to-face context too.
Social media and face-to-face networking events can also be combined, as the former has become a great tool for advertising and marketing the latter, and vice versa. If you’re not sure how to find networking events, jump onto social media and start following influencers in your industry. Most will be receptive to networking, and they will likely re-tweet and share events that will be of interest to your industry.
How to do face-to-face networking
Face-to-face networking can often be seen as a by-product of having an abundance of charisma or self-confidence. But even if you don’t feel like you’ve ever had the gift of the gab, there are ways to learn techniques that can mitigate the need for a big personality.
Firstly, don’t be afraid to utilise any pre-existing contacts. If you know someone at an event, then approach them about making introductions to other connections. Even if these connections aren’t the people you are looking to talk to, there’s a chance that one of them will know one of your targets.
Secondly, as tough as it may sound, going alone to a networking event can be beneficial. When you’re with people you know, such as colleagues or friends, it’s easy to slip into conversations with them at the expense of others. Not only will this inhibit you from reaching out, but your language will also likely be too informal or personal for others to join in. If you go alone, you force yourself to open up to new relationships.
Lastly, think about how you communicate. Keep your body language open and work on keeping eye contact with people. If you struggle with confidence, then prepare an elevator pitch before you attend the event. This will give you focus and allow you to explain your business to others with clarity and without hesitation.
What to avoid when networking
Despite the focus on ‘identifying’ targets and ‘using’ others, it’s important to not get too forceful or impatient with your goals. When you’re targeting someone, you should be targeting them with a relationship in mind – not as a buyer or a career stepping stone. If you make a memorable first impression, then often sales, opportunities and growth will follow naturally.
It’s also a good idea to avoid topics that could be considered inflammatory or cause ill will. You may be the most political person in the room, but that doesn’t mean you should push an agenda on others you barely know at a networking event. There’s nothing wrong with being a bit informal, but don’t get caught up in complaining about something or going into details about your personal life. Keep the conversation open, inviting and positive.
The benefits of networking
In conclusion, networking isn’t a black and white area – it’s about opening yourself up to opportunities. It can allow you to meet other like-minded entrepreneurs and business figures while building a reputation amongst your peers. These people can provide inspiration and share strategies that can help boost your business.
It’s not solely about the benefits to you either: other entrepreneurs are there with the same goal of growing their brands and businesses. By listening to others and being helpful with introductions, you can casually strengthen your own network. This may even bring benefits to your business that you previously didn’t visualise.
Finally, the most important benefit of networking is that it makes you visible. Don’t get caught up in rejection or failure: what matters is being noticed, and therefore being visible. Visibility means you’re succeeding at marketing yourself and opening yourself up to possibilities that will allow your business to grow.
Business growth advice from Tax Agility
At Tax Agility, our accountants specialise in small businesses. We’ve helped many of our clients grow from one idea into the companies they are today.
Get in touch on 020 8108 0090 or use our Online Enquiry Form
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