Most small businesses start off with a lot of hope mixed with a great deal of passion. From selling scented candles online to offering piano tuition, those of us starting a business from scratch will know the all important goal is selling our products and services even if that means us offering them out for free in order to get the ball rolling.
I write this as a person who started each of my businesses from ‘scratch’ and usually with a hopeful website (that I would now be ashamed of) and the famous Vista Print free business cards as my introduction. Logo designed (home made), social media accounts running and posting out to only a handful of followers made up of friends and family, either full time or part time (during a full time job) hours to commit and then it hits you… Where can I reach my clients and maybe I need to start advertising?
Some people will roll with a business plan and their prior research will have already told them if there was a chance to be successful, I never bothered with such things as I always went with gut feeling that what I was doing was both needed and would be successful if I threw enough effort at it. So what took me and my businesses off the launch pad?
Networking. Such a frequently used word in business and for me probably one of the most important. How you build a business or a brand is all about networking and this is especially important when it comes to small / micro sized companies. Be it you are a sole trader or set up as a director of a limited company of which you own 100% of the shares, networking is the key to success when used correctly.
There are varied forms of networking:
Online Networking: This opens up the whole internet to you. From social media to chat rooms, people use the internet and are all open to be reached by you / your business.
Face to Face Networking: From casual networking down your local pub to attending business networking breakfast meetings, your audience and those who will buy from you are all out there for you to acquaint yourself with.
Networking has evolved tremendously over the last twenty years thanks to the internet making not only networking more easier, but also facilitating targeting those you network with. Does business networking work still? Well yes it does, though they can be very traditional and quite basic and usually a breakfast meet at £10 to £15 weekly, this gets you on the road to not only meeting local, equally motivated people, but also bolstering your confidence in representing your business.
‘The Networks of Networks‘ is a phrase you really need to install in your mind and focus on. By this I mean you should not only focus on making new contacts and grabbing new business cards, but also to think about what connections that individual might have. Many small, group business networking events will usually go round to each member and ask them to share with others what they are looking for this week and this will undoubtedly mean a person, ie “I am looking for someone who deals with the marketing for the local Mercedes Garage“. If a room contains 20 people and each of those 20 people have 100 connections, you should see the room containing a potential reach of 20 x 100 people so your request for someone in marketing at the Mercedes Garage could be met with a “I know someone“.
Networking not only means those set up from companies such as BNI and early morning breakfast meetings, a quick search online will open up many others too including some no doubt exactly in the field you are looking to target. Most people will just want local business networking as they are after local clients, but say if you are in the property sector and you are offering a service to estate agents, then look out for property networking events (both on a local or national level).
Think outside the box when it comes to networking and research events that are taking place such as exhibitions / awards / talks / shows / launch parties and similar where audiences you are looking to reach might gather – Get yourself to these events as not only exhibitors you can network with, but fellow attendees.
Social (networking) Media is the other massive place to network. If you are combining face to face with online networking then make sure you cross over on them, by this I mean whoever you meet in business try and connect with them online too, the best place being LinkedIn – This enables you to build up your database of connections on both forms of networking. Social Media is very similar to face to face networking, you can also join groups / pages / live broadcasts and more so.
Networking tips for Social Media:
Build a professional looking profile across social media
Connect with all your face to face networking colleagues
Join groups / pages to increase presence of your profile and engage with current discussions
Use (Twitter) Spaces, Live Broadcasts and post plenty of educational content so to increase your profile and your influence
Connect / follow / like / comment on posts from people you have yet to meet face to face
Don’t be shy to ask on social media, many people are very happy to reply if you need help or for instance if you politely ask for connections they might have