There’s so much to do when setting up your new business, and one thing that often slips through the cracks is networking. With over 4.4 million self-employed at the end of 2020, a rise of more than 40% since 2018, there’s a lot more opportunities to network, and more people than ever needing to grow their business.
The world of small business networking can be strange for the uninitiated, but don’t worry, we’re here to get you started.
Why do business owners ‘network’?
Networking, forming communities, and staying in touch with your peers has been a common practice since the dawn of time. It’s excellent for business too, providing fresh insight about marketing, shared experiences, and can be an incredible source of advice relevant to your business. It may even lead to collaborations, or just the odd helping hand.
Networking has changed too, and for the better if you can harness the tools available. Social media is an incredible platform for networking with other small business owners in your community, but traditional, face-to-face comradery works just as well. It’s a good idea generally, but what kind of benefits can you get personally?
Why networking might be good idea for you
There’s a lot of benefits to small business networking, aside from forming bonds with people in a similar situation to you. It’s a great way to grow your brand and seek new opportunities. In many ways, it’s similar to networking with colleagues at work, only your work is now on a bigger scale.
Some of the benefits include:
Potential business opportunities - Whether it’s formal partnerships, learning about community events, or simply staying in the loop, there’s a wealth of opportunities that a small business owner can get from networking. As an example, artists may be able to host their work inside local restaurants, or, as a restaurant owner, you might be able to draw people in by putting on an exhibition.
Meeting like-minded people and mentors - Many small business owners you network with will be or will have been in similar positions to you, with similar struggles and goals. They can provide advice, or just support, when it comes to the challenges of running a business.
Entering new markets/areas - The more people you meet, the more opportunities present themselves. Maybe, as a cafe, your cakes become the talk of the town — then, perhaps, you’re approached by a local bridal shop to do their wedding cakes. If you don’t network, you limit your potential to expand.
Boosting your brand - Networking is all about sharing. Getting involved not only helps other small business owners but can help you too. Creating good ties with other businesses can lead to recommendations and support, earning your brand more natural recognition.
Learning from others - Just as we learn from colleagues, networking with other small businesses can be incredible for practical, locally, and personally relevant advice.
Where are the best opportunities to network?
2020 small business owner networking events
Each year, there’s a host of events across the UK to help small businesses network. There’s talks, guides, and national days dedicated to help your business. If you’re curious, search engines can help you find events across the country or online.
There’s a range of established small business networking groups available, including:
- The British Chamber of Commerce
- Small Business Britain
- Enterprise Nation
- Business Networking International
Some are highly vetted; others are open to anyone. Becoming part of such a group is a great step to creating a versatile support network, perfect for finding advice.
Mixers, happy hour events, local business events, industry-specific engagements, local fundraisers, seminars, roundtables — the list is endless. What’s not endless is your time - but that’s okay. You don’t need to feel pressured to attend every networking event. Work out what would be fun and effective for you.
Opportunities like these can help you take off and build your business. There are even online events, which are convenient for both time and safety if that suits you better. These events can be local, national, or even global depending on what type of meet you join.
Social media is a fantastic place for small business networking. It’s accessible, wide-reaching, and you can come and go as you please. It can also improve your online presence, such as by increasing the footprint of your Instagram page, thus leading to more business traffic.
If you’re the type of person who isn’t too involved online, it may open up natural content opportunities. Failing that, you can message like-minded businesses or find chances to get involved in lucrative local events.
Sometimes, the best start you can make with small business networking is attending local events and groups. These could be meets-and-greets that you host, pre-existing meets, online chats, or conferences. It’s not just about boosting your brand either, a local support network can help you through stressful times, provide new contacts, and give you something to look forward to.
How to make the most of networking opportunities
Have an elevator pitch prepared
Opportunities may appear suddenly, and having a concise, natural, and easy to follow “elevator pitch” can go a long way in promoting or explaining your business to other entrepreneurs. Don’t focus too much on this, however, it’s best just have it in the back of your mind so you can best present your business. Focus on your goals, what your business is, and what sets you apart.
Ask questions about others
It’s important to give and take when it comes to networking. It’s not just about altruism either but taking an interest in others could let you identify potential friendships, marketing opportunities, or partnerships if you network with the right people. Take a genuine interest in others, and they’ll take an interest in you.
Take business cards
It’s easy to forget things, and all it takes is one busy week for lower priority tasks to leave your head. You may stumble across a potential opportunity you’re not ready for now, but, with no contact information, could lose it by the time you’re prepared. Take business cards, details, and names, so that, when that perfect time comes, you’re not left scrambling.
The way you present yourself says a lot about your brand. You don’t need to wear swanky suits or six-inch heels - dress in a way that’s true to you and your business. Be confident, and you’ll attract similarly minded people. It’s not the be-all-end-all of networking, but every little helps.
Don’t go too hard on ‘selling yourself’
This isn’t Dragon’s Den; you’re not looking to sell yourself. What you do want is to make a good impression, which means moderation. Attend events to meet people, have a good time, and to learn new things. Overselling can be off-putting and unnatural – at the core of it, your main priority is to gain acquaintances and business knowledge. Anything else is a bonus.
Prepare for events with a bit of research
Preparation is key; it can help you make the most of your time, especially at events with speakers or established entrepreneurs. Taking your time to learn about who’s present can help you know where to focus your efforts, or help spark conversation with other small business owners.
What you do will depend on where you’re going, what it’s for, and who you’ll have the opportunity to meet. You don’t have to spend an evening on it - a bit of browsing while the kettle boils can work wonders.
The world is reopening in 2022, and many small businesses (and people) are going to want to get back out there, network, and begin making up for lost time. The COVID pandemic has changed a lot too, and online communities are more prominent than ever. In such uncertain times, getting advice from other businesses who are tackling the same issues can be an incredible tool.
If you’re looking to boost your business this year, then let Square help run your business.