Networking is the lifeblood of the small business economy; with 5.5 million small businesses making up just under half of the UK’s private sector turnover, the impact of small businesses is massive – especially where the majority of these businesses employ less than 50 employees. When striking out as an independent business, it can be tempting to consider everyone else competition – but here we will demonstrate just why networking is vital to your success.
The main draw to carrying out networking activities, whether attending exhibitions and events or simply reaching out to contemporaries on professional social media platforms, lies in the generation of new opportunities for you and your business. Not only can you expand your potential customer base through networking opportunities, but you can also create crucial alliances with other businesses and professionals in your industry, including competitors. Networking gives you the chance to open up avenues for liaison, where companies could mutually benefit from pooling resources or offering services to each other’s customer base, even forming a united front and offering a shared package of services or products. The possibilities are endless, and collaboration can be much more lucrative than working in isolation.
Beyond the potential to expand your customer base or form important alliances, networking on behalf of your business can be useful purely as a function of making yourself known in your industry’s circles. Meeting other professionals will make them aware of your brand and your personal mission, where they may not have been aware of you or your business before. While this may not immediately lead to more business, this does put your name and details in their contact list – which could lead to future opportunities, whether for your business or for yourself as an industry professional.
Networking with fellow professionals also represents a unique learning opportunity; by expanding your horizons, and meeting executives in other professions and industries, you can expand your knowledge of your own industry, as well as the interrelationships between different systems and business processes. By talking to others in your own field, you can optimise your own practices, synthesising ideas from others in your position to streamline your workflow and grow your business. As mentioned before, collaboration between small businesses is key to their success; business is an ecosystem of its own, whichever your industry, and leveraging the possibilities extended by that ecosystem properly can ensure everyone thrives.
Networking is a nebulous activity, and easy to talk about without understanding exactly how to get your foot in the door with other businesses and professionals. Social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook represent powerful opportunities to connect remotely, providing the option to search for specific individuals or professionals within a field. Networking events can be found using events portals like EventBrite, from local lunchtime meet-ups to large-scale exhibitions – however, you could also take the initiative and run your own networking event for the purposes of advertising yourself and your brand. Resources exist to help you get off the ground with your own event, from speaking to a commercial finance introducer about financing an event to consulting events and marketing professionals for best practice.