Today, I want to talk about something that has been absolutely pivotal in the success of my business over the last twenty-five years. Networking. There are business gurus who will tell you that business success comes from this fad or that one, but what I have learned over my time in business is that people are the most important element of anyone’s success. But, as individuals, we don’t know that many people so when we start a business we need to get out there and meet some new faces. Networking for small business is the best way to do this.

Now, after having many conversations about networking over the years, I know that lots of people have their reservations about networking and what they perceive it to be. So, today I’m going to share what networking for small business is, and what it isn’t.

Networking is:

Empowering

When you’re a small business owner, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed with everything that needs to be done – and it all falls to you. We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves. But also, often, when things aren’t going well for us in business it’s easy to throw our hands in the air and blame factors outside of ourselves. When you actively network then you take back control of your situation. You get up and say, ‘I’m going to meet some new people today and see where those interactions take me’.

The interactions you have in networking for small business might spark a new idea, might make you feel more confident in your abilities, or you might just have a laugh and enjoy the break from the usual work day. I have never returned to work after networking and felt worse. Let’s put it that way.

Educational

When you join a business network, you have access to lots of business people who can share insights with you. This is invaluable when it comes to growing your business. No business gets to be successful without making a few wrong turns along the way. We learn from these mistakes, but it’s even better when someone else who has already made that mistake can flag it for us in advance and help us to avoid getting into trouble in the first place.

We also broaden our horizons when networking for small business. We discover all the different types of products and services that are available to us – and our network, in our immediate vicinity. There may be a solution that you never knew about to your biggest business headache.

We are always learning if we approach life with a growth mindset and networking is a great way to do this.

Full of Opportunities

One of my favourite aspects of networking for small business is that you never know who you’re going to meet. While we invest in building up our relationships through networking, there is a constant flow of new people into our sphere. You have no idea whether the person you sit beside for lunch is going to become a future client, best friend or even business partner!

We also never know who people know and this is important. Although we may think on first glance that a new person isn’t much ‘good’ to us because they’re in a field we don’t know much about, we have no idea who they’re connected to. Treat everyone you meet through networking as your new best client, they may just end up introducing you to them.

Networking isn’t:

Pushy

Yes, I’ve said it. I know that there are people out there who see networking for small business as pushy and even smarmy. If people are doing it wrong, it can seem that way. But that’s not how I, or the people in my circle, network. The idea behind networking for small business is that it gives small business owners, like you and me, the opportunity to get out of the office / house and meet new contacts, who are also in the business world, to connect and share insights, support and opportunities with each other, which we otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

It is not a space to sell, sell, sell. Only those who don’t understand the true value of networking for small business act that way. The real gold of networking comes through the trust we build with our contacts. When we have a rapport and trustworthy relationship we then gain access to each contact’s individual network, which, a quick glance at social media will tell you, could be up to 200 people. If you develop 10 great relationships with network partners who you don’t act salesy or pushy towards, you can then potentially access 2000 people who you can sell to – in a nice way, of course!

Which would you rather do, sell to a room of 15 people and leave with everyone saying ‘Oh, they’re so pushy’ and get maybe 1 or 2 sales at best, or create great relationships with those 15 people and be handed the key to their network?

Only for Confident People

This is another misnomer about networking for small business. When you go to your first network meeting it is very easy to think that everyone else in the room is super confident and that they have no notion of how terrified you feel. That couldn’t be further from the truth. When you start networking, it is daunting. You have to stand up and pitch your business to a room of people you don’t know. It can feel like Dragon’s Den! But, guess what? Most people in the room hated public speaking when they started. They had feelings of inadequacy and wanted to run home to throw the duvet over their head too. But when you stick with it, you can grow in confidence and it is wonderful to see how people blossom over time when they invest in networking for small business.

A Quick Win Scenario

Just in case I’ve sold you on the idea of networking for small business, I need to just mention this last point. Networking is not going to create quick wins in your business. Well, it might, but usually, it takes time before you start to see the fruits of your labour.

Think about it, when you meet a new person and they are offering a product or service that your best friend needs. It might be a product that’s a little sensitive to bring up in conversation, it might be imperative that they get the right person to supply this product or service. So, even though you want to support this new person in their business venture, your alliance to your best friend is stronger right now, so you hold off for a while to get to know them better. This is what happens over repeated network events, you can deepen the relationship and discover whether the trust is there.

It depends on the product or service, sometimes trust develops quickly, other times it can take longer. But when you invest in the relationship over time it has a strong foundation. This means that when you do get the referral for the best friend and you do an outstanding job, your network partner will sing your praises all day long! And that is priceless.

I’ve been depending on the people in my network for support and encouragement in business for many years. I wouldn’t be where I am without them. They are so integral to my business success. Networking for small business works. It might be daunting at first, but the personal and business rewards it can bring are so worth it. Why not give it a try?

Contact me, Marion Fitzgerald, if you’re not sure how to start networking but would like to give it a go. I’ll be happy to share some of the insights I’ve gathered.