If you own a small business, networking can be an inexpensive way to promote your business. Through networking, you can discover new opportunities, build your customer base and find new suppliers and staff. You may also find investors and business partners.
Networking is particularly important if you're running a home business because it can connect you with peers and help you overcome potential issues associated with being isolated. Learn more about networking ideas for home-based businesses.
Networking options are broad and continually changing. You may need to research networking trends to work out which ones best suit your business.
Once you begin networking, it's likely you'll start to receive invitations to more events from people you meet. Before you know it, your networking group will be growing.
Conferences and events
Get into the habit of regularly attending breakfasts, seminars, lectures and lunches that are held by various groups. These events are usually advertised in newspapers, business and trade magazines or online. You can invite others in your field or from your local area to attend as well.
If you're feeling confident, you might consider sponsoring an event for people in your industry, or even one for an industry that many of your clients or suppliers are from. You could also consider running your own event. Learn more about promoting your business at trade shows and exhibitions.
If you're too busy to attend lots of events, focus on developing relationships with just 3 or 4 key people. Strengthen your relationship with contacts you have a good rapport with. Consider contacts who might face similar challenges to you and work out how you might be able to help each other.
It's a good idea to join networking groups run through industry associations. Joining these groups will help you keep up to date with changes in your industry, and will get you invited to networking events.
Joining networking groups will give you a chance to meet people from a wide range of small- to medium-sized businesses. Contact your industry association and business contacts or search online, for example on the Meetup website, to find out a networking group that suits you.
Online social networking sites (such as Facebook and LinkedIn) are useful tools for businesses to create networks (with other businesses and industry associations) and follow up with new contacts.
Connecting with your industry online will help you keep up to date with events. You can also sign up to online newsletters from industry associations and other businesses and receive regular updates about events and opportunities.
Personal contacts and social events
Networking through friends and family can be a great way to establish strong business relationships.
You might meet someone who could be useful for your business, or someone whose business you can help, at a social event. If you develop a rapport with them and exchange contact details, you can then arrange a more official meeting with them later.
Who should be in your network
There are some simple questions you can ask when deciding who should be in your network.
- Who can help me?
- Who knows what is going on?
- Who already has strong networks?
- Who are the critical links in the supply and information chain?
- Who are the high profile people?