Having been in business for over ten years, I hardly done any networking for the first five to eight of those years. Instead, I relied on recruitment agencies or people I knew. However, the agencies became more difficult to deal with so I decided to take another approach which was to attend networking events.
So why is networking so important to micro and small business? Well very simply it can be a source of good contacts and potential work. Who should attend and what events should you go to? That is a hard question to answer but I will give MY ANSWER though it is not definitive but just my opinion. In many cases it will depend on the business sector you operate in. There are a huge number of networking groups and events throughout Ireland and from what I understand all countries throughout the world.
Some events in Ireland can be very specialised but many will take business owners from every business sector. One of the most well-known and publicized is BNI. From my knowledge it has some excellent results. It’s expensive to join and sometimes the set targets are hard to achieve. I’ve joined a number of groups on LinkedIn and several have set up events where members can meet. Quite often this is done in a round table set-up with up to ten people per table. LinkedIn can also give you access to other events posted on it and e-mails are sent to group members. Many of these events are free and, if it is within your business remit, they are worth attending. It’s also good to have a couple of close business contacts who are likely to invite you to events. If you cannot afford to pay the fee, you can help in the organization and get the benefits for free.
So you’ve joined some groups and are networking to promote your business, what do you do next? Firstly, make sure you have a good supply of business cards. Write down what your business is about and list typical customers. NOW this part is going to sound strange but here goes. Set the stopwatch on your mobile phone and recite your information. If it takes more than two minutes, it’s too long so edit it without losing the major points. Recite it again. One minute-thirty seconds is about right. REMEMBER! THE LISTENER WANTS TO KNOW THE IMPORTANT POINTS IN THE FIRST TEN SECONDS. Memorise your data, book your place at the next networking event and double-check you have a good supply of business cards.
On the day what should you wear? This can be subjective but regardless of the industry you are in, always look smart. For both men and women I suggest either a business suit or a shirt and trousers/skirt. Men should wear a tie. Arrive early as this gives you a chance to talk and network before the event. You will be understandably nervous the first time, but just remember you know your business better than anyone else. Take your time and speak clearly and slowly. Don’t be afraid of missing bits out - I guarantee people will ask questions if they’re not sure.
So why is networking important to a small business? Very simply it gives you an opportunity to talk to others about what you do. You’re meeting new people and publicising your business. Someone will take your card and be in touch within weeks; this happened to me this yea. Do not run down competitors and do not hide from the fact that you have competitors. Be positive and have an open mind at the event.
Make a note of the business cards you’ve collected and send an email to those you want to follow up. For those you are particularly interested in, ask for a one-on-one meeting using the premise of having a coffee. It always works.
Attending networking events and seminars is not the only type of networking. If you are on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter or any of the other sites, contribute to the posts. Never forget that you are an expert in what you do and you should be proud of that and be willing to tell others. A client may come from making a simple comment on a post. Last year I offered my services on a LinkedIn group I belong to and put forward a template that could be used for a major project. The entire group is very likely to be involved in the project should it be successful. After a couple of follow-up conversations, the owner of the group recommended me to a company with whom I am in early discussions about doing some work.
So what can networking do for your business and how important is it? Well it can put you in touch with new clients and companies that can help you with aspects of your business you can’t give your full attention. It can put you in touch with potential partners. Attending the events will build your self-confidence and make you a stronger person.
So going back to my title “IMPORTANCE OF NETWORKING FOR MICRO AND SMALL BUSINESSES” do I think that Networking is important? YES I DO. I have made some excellent contacts in the last three years and several of them have progressed to clients. Networking works.
By Adrian Rush
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