Whether you are just starting out or are a seasoned businessperson, you will find that the old adage that 'no man is an island' is more than a cliche, it carries a great deal of truth. You must be flexible and open enough to recognise the huge importance of knowledge in today's competitive world. As I have said in my previous articles, knowledge is power and research is key. Research is not about just sitting in front of a computer crunching numbers and stats. It is more than that. It is getting out there and seeing what the world has to offer you - personally and in a business sense. This is where, I believe, networking comes in. You cannot sit in your office and be smug and reactive. You have to be out there, discovering new things because there is always something, like an opportunity that has been missed by someone else that you can take advantage of. There are people to meet, deals to make, steps to take and things to learn that will not only benefit you but will enable your business to grow. So be proactive and go out there; surprise yourself and others.
Networking with others allows businesses, especially small businesses, to share ideas, experiences and information that will help them. Businesses should not only network with other businesses. Go to educational institutions (that is where the next generation of businessmen and women are, whether they are 6 or 16); go to trade organisations and of course, continue to network with other businesses. With the recession hitting hard and people looking for the edge, continual learning and developing will stand your business in good stead when the recovery begins (plus sometimes you get a nice lunch thrown in for good measure).
The different ways that networking works
Networking involves interacting with others, and it can take several forms. You can choose to use one, some or even all of them depending on what your business is and what works best for you. Some of these include:
Business forums and conferences - these can be online or done person-to-person. I find that Twitter is an awesome tool when it comes to networking. To learn how to you can use Twitter as an effective marketing tool, read this Factoid by Amused Consensus by clicking here. It will give you an excellent foundation in making Twitter work for you and your business. Then there is the awesome Factoidz community. Being a part of Factoidz has enabled me to make like-minded contacts, build friendships as well as learn a whole load of stuff. Plus, I get to write and contribute to something brilliant. The site speaks for itself and I love being a part of it. Furthermore, there are trade associations and Chambers of Commerce that hold networking events. Take advantage of them. It may be difficult at first but, in the long run, they will really help.
Bulletins and newsletters- if you are not quite ready to put yourself out there physically, then signing up to newsletters and bulletins is a great first step to getting yourself out there. For example, if you are an accountant, find out if there is another one out there with a newsletter--and sign up. They contain useful information that you can use, they will have contact details so that you can introduce yourself (well, electronically at least). If you manage to build a relationship with them through this kind of contact, then you will feel less self-conscious when it comes to time to meet with them and with other like minded businesspeople at an event, and that can only be good. I receive numerous writing newsletters. They are full of advice, support and jobs. I have been fortunate to find work through these and build up my client base.
Debates and discussions - if you are the talkative type, there may be visiting speakers giving a talk. The good of this is that there are likely to be people who work in the same industry as you making the presention (as well as those in associated and linked industries). You may even find a potential employee there, who knows unless you go. Through these talks and subsequent debates (thank God for the Question and Answer section), you will not only learn a great deal but make contacts that could help you later on as your business develops.
You could learn about:
- New techniques/methods of doing things
- Any new regulations that you need to be aware of
- New products and research
That kind of stuff, sometimes, cannot be learned from a book but only by person-to-person contact. So it is important that you use these opportunities wisely. You may meet potential suppliers, customers, even competitors but it's all good because you are all looking for the same thing, working together and sharing; like Sara Valor said "It is beneficial to businesses and communities alike."
When choosing a network or business community to join, you need to think of what you want. Do you want to know about training? Do you want general advice? Do you want to know about developments within your industry? When you have considered that, think about how much time you are able to commit, or else you will not benefit from the experience at all. For example, if you do not have the time to attend functions, what about online forums and virtual business fairs (trust me, they exist)? If you are not the get-up-and-go type of person, what about just receiving newsletters and participating in online discussions? There is something out there for you if you take the time to look.
What a networking event might entail
A lot of networking events are arranged as lunches or even breakfasts. There are even those that involve casual drinks in a nice bar somewhere. This serves the dual purpose of socialising as well as networking. Look in your local trade magazine, online, or your local Chamber of Commerce to see what is being offered. If that does not sound like your thing, then what about exploiting social networking sites like Twitter and LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) and networking online?
When you attend these events, you may be asked to give a brief presentation introducing yourself and your business. The others in the group will do the same. There may be an opportunity to swap business cards and information, so make sure you are adequately prepared. An information pack with a sample (if you can get one) is always good here too.
What are the benefits of networking?
If I am going to put myself through this, it had better be worth it, I hear you say. Well, I think it is. Here are just some of the reasons why I think so.
- It can help improve your business (by finding ways to do things cheaper or better)
- There is potential to build your client base and develop business relationships
- It can develop skills and increase your knowledge (as they say, knowledge is power)
- Meet new people and expand your market base
- Raise your company profile
- Encourage innovation and discussion of issues affecting your industry
How much you benefit from networking depends partly on the events and the services the network partnership offers. But it mostly depends on how active your involvement is. There are those that are afraid that they will be too embarrassed or, worse still, taken advantage of by a rival. I think that the pros vastly outweigh the concerns and it is worth investing the time, effort and yes money into doing this.
So there you have my take on networking. Despite the bad rap that it sometimes gets, it is worth it. You will find it is more than your business that benefits, and that can only be a good thing.
Take care and God bless readers . . . .