Building relationships can be the key to building a successful business. Professional relationships with other business people can:
Be a source of education
In business, professional development never stops—there’s always more to learn. Owning and operating a business requires an extensive set of skills, and this can often feel overwhelming for new entrepreneurs.
Experienced business connections can provide much-needed advice and industry insight, helping to avoid mistakes in marketing, product creation, communications, and time management. The lived experiences of old-hand business owners are invaluable when it comes to creating functional processes and making clever business decisions.
Improve brand awareness
Brand awareness is everything in business. There are plenty of options for business marketing, especially in today’s social media world, but nothing beats word of mouth.
Business networking can help new businesses to build reputations, brand recognizability and product awareness. This is the first link in a chain reaction. Once a business’s name is out there, it can begin to be shared by colleagues and clients and that’s the key to more work, more profit and overall business growth.
Provide opportunities and support
Networking helps business owners to build a client base. Professional connections can provide fantastic outsourcing and collaboration opportunities that can help new businesses to cement their position in the marketplace.
Other business owners can also serve as an important support network, helping newcomers to understand and navigate business challenges.
Where to find business networking opportunities
Business networking opportunities are everywhere, but it helps to know how to spot them.
Conferences and events can be fantastic networking opportunities. Likeminded and motivated business people gather in their hundreds to talk about business and connect with others who share their entrepreneurial drive.
Often, these events also offer a range of educational resources and professional development workshops. Formal networking events like these are helpful because all attendees arrive with a shared networking goal.
When choosing conferences and events to attend, it’s a good idea to carefully consider your business niche and goals.
Some conferences are specifically tailored toward networking, while others have a greater emphasis on professional development or career progression. Selecting conferences that match your business’s interests will help you to get the most value out of event networking opportunities.
Local clubs and events
Engaging with local clubs and events is a great way of beginning to explore networking opportunities. These events usually operate on a relatively small scale, and this can provide a seemingly safer, more comfortable environment for business people who are new to the networking scene.
Local networking opportunities can be helpful in offering location-specific advice and opportunities. They can provide space for developing working relationships, partnerships and information about upcoming local sales events (a local market or show), or even space-sharing initiatives.
Online relationship building is growing in prevalence and popularity and the business world is included in this trend. There are a number of online business networking groups, many of them based on Facebook and LinkedIn.
These groups are brilliant resources for business people who are still feeling intimidated by face-to-face networking and can be great opportunities for those hoping to expand businesses and embrace a global marketplace.
How to make the most of networking opportunities
There a few simple steps that can help business people to make the most of networking opportunities.
Be prepared and know what you do
Arrive at networking events with a clear sense of what your business can do to help other business people. Everybody at a business networking event is there to grow their own project, so your job is pitch how you can help them on their way to success.
Always arrive on time in dress-code appropriate clothing, and bring plenty of business cards and/or brochures to hand out to interested connections.
Have clear networking goals
What do you hope to achieve from this event and/or relationship? Attend all networking events with a clear sense of purpose. Your business has a mission—you should too. Having clear, well-defined goals will help you to drive conversations in productive directions and it will make your business look well-prepared and professional.
Possible networking goals include:
— You’re looking for casual mentorship or business support
— You’re hoping to outsource work to other business
— You’d like to find other businesses that are willing to outsource work to you
— You’re planning a big move (like international expansion) and want to talk to more experienced business people
— You want to find and engage with a like-minded community
Once you have a good understanding of what you want to get out of networking, you can target the connections that best serve your purpose. Find out who the most valuable potential connections are and focus on convincing them of how you can help them achieve their business networking purpose.
Creating an order of networking priority can help to simplify overwhelming events. Talk to as many people as possible, and try to ensure that all communications are meaningful and purposeful.
Be interested, engaged, polite, and professional
People like to be listened to. The best way to develop a positive business reputation is to maintain good engagement and professionalism in all networking communications. Show interest in the people you speak with and offer value in the content of your conversations.
It can be helpful to take note of specific conversations details. In follow-ups, you can rely on anecdotes and the use of names to encourage a sense of familiarity.
Ask specific, direction questions
Networking always comes back down to purpose. Ask questions that are direct and goal-driven, and don’t be afraid to make your business goals clear. Avoid confusing connections with overly convoluted statements. Keep it simple and to the point.
Plan to follow up
Provide website, business cards or social media details, and get back in touch with new professional connections. Think about how your business might be helpful to the businesses you connect with and offer your services.
You can keep in touch with professional connections by:
— Inviting them to other events/conferences
— Sharing industry-relevant articles or learning materials
— Outsourcing work
— Socializing or sending holiday wishes