My inbox is constantly full of invites to webinars, real estate investment seminars and MLM presentations, and that’s just from vendors. If you factor in all of the professional development groups that I belong to I could attend a new networking group almost every day of the week.
Networking is an essential part of doing business these days, whether you like it or not. Aside from the free drinks, Business Networking is more than just a way to gain new clients and/or get sales. Done properly, Business Networking is a way to expand your knowledge, learn from the success of others to develop a network of compatible professionals that you can use to help build a sustainable business.
I would like to share with you 5 reasons that outline why business networking is important for small business owners and why you should invest more time and effort into getting it right.
The old adage, “It’s not WHAT you know, but WHO you know” is absolutely true when it comes to building a successful business. To grow your small business quickly today’s entrepreneurs need to have a strong source of relevant connections in your network that you can call on when you need them.
Networking in the right circles is one way to gain access to highly influential people that you otherwise would not have been able to easily talk to or connect with.
It’s not just about who you are directly networking with either – chances are, people whom you meet at various networking functions may already have a network that you can tap into as well. So, ask the right questions to find out if the person you are networking with knows who you want to know!
With a motivated group of business owners comes an abundance of opportunities! Networking within the right groups brings with it plenty of opportunities for those who think about more than just making a sale. There are always lots of opportunities that are inherent with attending networking events including the opportunity to speak as an expert on a given subject, opportunities to be a sponsor for an event, opportunity to cross promote a comparable product and/or service, guest writing opportunities… the list goes on, and the opportunities within networking are really endless. One way to help identify such opportunities is by finding out what the group needs to grow and learning to ask the right questions.
Just make sure that you are careful to entertain only the right opportunities and don’t try to jump into every opportunity that comes your way. The opportunities that you get involved in should align with your business goals/vision, otherwise you might find that you are spinning your wheels chasing after opportunity after opportunity and getting nowhere.
Raising your profile
Being visible and getting noticed is another huge benefit of business networking. Make sure you regularly attend business and social events that will help to get your face known. Rather than just showing up and taking business with other entrepreneurs, one good way to establish yourself as an expert in your field and/or to raise your profile is to offer to give a brief talk about something you specialize in that may be beneficial to the attendees of the group. A brief talk- and not a sales pitch– can go a long way in establishing credibility and helping others to gain more clarity about what it is you do and how they can help you grow your business. This will go a long way in helping to build your reputation as a knowledgeable, reliable and supportive person by offering useful information or tips to people who need it. You are also more likely to get more leads and referrals as you will be the one that pops into their head when they need what you offer.
Using the contacts that you make while networking can open doors for business opportunities. Knowing WHO your ideal customer is and how to communicate that to other potential referral sources is critical. Once you become involved at networking functions is one sure way to generate new “qualified” business leads.
Never forget the saying, “The fortune is in the follow-up.” Some leads take time to convert into actual clients and having a reliable follow-up plan in place is very important. These warm leads are the easiest to convert, but you have to put in the effort and be sensitive to the needs of those you are contacting. Communicate professionally when you follow up on leads. People want to help others but aren’t interested in someone badgering them for business. Be sensitive to timing and use common courtesy when following up with contacts.
Generation of referrals/Increased business
Probably the most obvious benefit and the reason why most business owners decide to participate in networking activities and join networking groups is to generate referrals and increase their businesses.
More often than not, the referrals that you generate through networking are normally high quality and most of the time are even pre-qualified for you. You can then follow up on these referrals/leads and turn them into clients or better yet, other referral sources. Compared to other forms of marketing, networking is one sure way to acquire much higher quality leads and to connect with people who can really help you build your business.
Being in the company of like-minded business owners to talk to also gives you an opportunity to exchange ideas and to get advice from other business owners on all sorts of issues related to your business or even ways in which others may go about in creating that important work-life balance.
I often tout my workshops and networking events as an opportune time to tap into advice and expertise (for FREE) from people whom you otherwise would not have had an opportunity to speak with without an appointment. Just make sure you are getting solid advice from the right person – someone that actually knows about what you need to know and is not just giving you their opinion on something that they have no or very little experience in.
Business Networking is more than just a way to gain new clients and/or get sales. No matter what industry you’re in, networking is always a good idea for business professionals wishing to foster relationships and grow their influence. Done properly, Business Networking is a great way to continue to promote your business you can collaborate with and explore new ways expand your client base and gain access to new market places. Whatever the case, be sure to get those questions together and be prepared to make come lasting connections!