Networking – Get Out and Do It

Owners of all kinds of small businesses are learning the value of networking. There’s a growing realization that doing well in business is often a matter of looking around and seeing what others are doing right and wrong – and doing the right things as often as possible.

Networking with others in similar positions lets you share their experiences and helps avoid things like ‘reinventing the wheel’ and ‘making the same mistake twice’. In our modern era of tough competition, proprietors are more inclined to speak openly with their colleagues about what worked for them and what didn’t.

This isn’t a paradox; it’s just being practical. According to a survey conducted by NatWest Small Business Research, over two-thirds of owners of small businesses are now members of one or more business or trade associations, networks or clubs, and meet regularly to share experiences and ideas.

When asked in the survey how these small business owners perceived their colleagues, nearly half said they would turn to each other for help and information.

Being part of a network seems to go a long way towards reducing the sense of isolation that many business owners feel. Owners say they benefit from being part of a community and see their networks as sources of new customers and suppliers.

With so many benefits to offer why does networking not appeal to all small business owners? One reason could well be that some have a fear of failure, of not looking as successful as others in their industry.

This could simply be the result of meeting successful networkers, typically good conversationalists with friendly personalities who have great people skills. Not everybody sees themselves as matching this description, nor should they. To possess all these qualities is rare.

Another reason given for not participating in networking is that events set up for that purpose can often seem overly ‘social’ and not serious enough. “They’re a waste of time and I’ve got too much work to do” is a common expression. But networking events are what you make of them.

Networking is about a lot more than just attending gatherings. It’s a willingness to open up to others, to share information, and to be honest with people who may just have won the battle you’re still fighting. It’s an attitude that is often found in successful businesspeople – for good reasons.

When you tell others that know your industry how you go about your business you begin to see it more objectively. You have to think deeper about your practices and ask questions you wouldn’t ask if you were just sitting in your office doing the paperwork.

You’ll find others have done a lot of the same thinking about their own businesses and that they share many of the same concerns and perceptions. It can be a pleasure to work things through with others who are just like you, to find out you’re not alone. That’s when you begin to see opportunities you’ve never seen before.

Set yourself the objective of gaining an understanding of other people’s concerns. When you know these you can decide whether they would have any interest in what you have to say. The purpose of networking is not to blow your own trumpet; it’s largely about asking questions and collecting information.

There are a few techniques for effective networking that anyone can use: – Have an “elevator speech” ready at all times. Make it a 30 second summary of your areas of expertise – where you can help others with their problems. – Don’t be afraid to ask questions. People usually like to talk a bit about themselves. – Use your network to help others get the answers they need. Even if you don’t have the solution to a problem, somebody else you know may have the answer. – Communicate regularly with your network. Be sure you follow-up with anyone you haven’t seen for a while, and use card-sending dates like Christmas to send out a newsletter to your network.

Successful businesses don’t operate in a vacuum. The people who run them maintain connections with others for mutual advantage. Relationships are established and maintained with other businesses, with customers and suppliers. This is what networking is all about. Networking is a tool for building relationships.

So, where can you go to get started on networking? Here are just a few suggestions but with a little bit of research you’ll find lots more:

– business or trade associations, – business clubs – chambers of commerce – industry-specific websites – networking websites – seminars – exhibitions – conferences – trade shows

And here’s a final tip. The people that you meet at networking events are meeting lots of other people too. Follow-up regularly with members of your network or your place in their networks may be replaced by somebody else. Successful networking is an ongoing activity, so learn to do it often and enjoy it!