Networking in business

You can use networking to raise your business profile, share new ideas and increase your sales. This resource will help you expand your network and make the most of your networking opportunities.

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Role of networking

Networking is about interacting and engaging with people for mutual benefit. If you're facing challenges in your business, your network may be able to provide you with advice. Equally, you'll be able to share your knowledge and skills to help contacts, which will strengthen your relationships.

Because networking can be targeted and personalised, it can play an important role in your marketing program. Networking is a powerful and inexpensive way to explore opportunities with:

It can also help you to:

  • keep up with the latest trends and developments in your industry
  • raise your profile
  • share new ideas
  • increase your sales
  • find information to benchmark your business.

Networking gets easier

Many people feel unsure or anxious about networking. But the good news is that it's a skill you can develop with practice. The more networking you do, the easier it will become.

Types of networks

In their article How leaders create and use networks, Ibarra and Hunter (2007) identify 3 main types of networks.

Operational networks are made up of contacts who can support or block an activity. Contacts:

  • are mostly internal, like employees, colleagues and superiors
  • include key outsiders such as suppliers, distributors, and customers.

They're focused on current demands and getting things done.

Personal networks are mostly close contacts outside your business.

They can:

  • support and improve your professional development
  • provide useful information and referrals.

Strategic networks are about:

  • seeing the big picture
  • preparing for future opportunities and challenges
  • getting an independent perspective.

Contacts can be external or internal and include experts who can provide direction and help you succeed.

Strategic networks can make the most significant impact.

Networking opportunities

There are many different types of networking opportunities. These opportunities also change and evolve all the time, so you may want to research current trends to decide what activities will best suit your business.

Some of the most common networking options are discussed below.

Business contacts

  • Identify and connect with key contacts in or outside your industry.
  • Build on relationships with people you get along with well.
  • Talk to people with similar challenges so you can help each other.

Business events

  • Go to relevant events, such as business breakfasts, seminars, and conferences.
  • Invite contacts from your field or local area to get involved.
  • Explore promotional opportunities at trade shows and exhibitions.

Industry associations

  • Join networking groups organised through industry associations.
  • Read newsletters and other resources to keep up to date with your sector.
  • Consider entering for a business award to build credibility and make new contacts.

Networking groups

  • Talk to your business partners and clients to find information on groups you could join.
  • Attend local groups (e.g. your chamber of commerce) to meet people from a wide range of businesses.
  • Search for in-person or online meetups of people with shared interests.

Online networking

  • Establish and maintain your profile on suitable social networking sites.
  • Follow and connect with individuals, businesses and groups through platforms such as LinkedIn.
  • Sign up to email newsletters from industry sources to receive updates.

Personal contacts

  • Talk to friends and family who may help to expand your connections.
  • Remember that referrals are often received through close contacts.
  • Meet people at social events who may share your business interests.

Think it through

As you become involved in different networking activities, always think about:

  • who you want to meet
  • why you want to connect
  • what you have to offer
  • how you'll follow up.

Networking in 6 steps

Networking can happen naturally but you can also take a more strategic approach.

Think about:

  • how much time and money you can realistically spend on networking
  • what you want to achieve and which networking activities will help you do that
  • what kind of networking you prefer – this will make networking more enjoyable and effective.

You can:

  • use our event calendar to find upcoming business events in Queensland
  • use the Australian Government's business events and training finder to find government-run or government-funded events and training
  • contact your local chamber of commerce or your industry association (find them through an internet search)
  • ask your business contacts about networking groups
  • search for relevant online groups through social media platforms (e.g. Facebook and LinkedIn).

Look outside your industry

As you gain more confidence, try to extend your networking beyond existing contacts and your industry. For example, a florist networking only with other florists will not be exposed to the insights and opportunities offered by:

  • hoteliers
  • wedding planners
  • event organisers.

Often technology or advances in one industry is also useful in other industries.

Many people find the idea of networking stressful and daunting. It may be easier to think about networking as simply meeting people who share your interests.

Nerves are natural, but you can improve your networking skills. Be ready to meet new people, introduce yourself and communicate effectively.

Tips to connect

  • Know what you want to say about your business. Think about your capability statement.
  • Research the people and businesses who might attend and who you'd like to meet. Be prepared to meet them and start a conversation.
  • Think about win-win scenarios – how you can help each other.

Who do you want to meet?

Ask yourself:

  • who can I help and who can help me?
  • who really knows what's going on?
  • who already has strong networks?
  • who are the decision makers?
  • Ask for and give out contact details (e.g. on business cards) when you've made a promising connection.
  • Follow up with a personal message soon after you meet and deliver on any promises you make.
  • Consider keeping a record of your contacts as you develop business relationships.
  • Maintain contact with people you meet as you expand your network.
  • Invite contacts to networking opportunities that you feel may be useful for their businesses.
  • Use your email newsletter to keep business contacts up to date with your activities and events.

Keep in mind...

  • Think about the long term – networking is about building relationships, not immediate payoffs.
  • Stay true to your areas of expertise and keep things professional, positive and constructive.
  • Treat everyone with respect – you never know how and when someone might help.
  • Interact more frequently with people most important to your business (e.g. for day to day work).
  • Be sensitive to confidentiality when sharing ideas and discussing issues with your contacts.
  • Manage online networking with the same importance and courtesy as face-to-face networking.

Also consider...