Networking is a concept that business owners struggle to build or develop. Most people have a network of some kind whether it is friends from college, friends from their child’s extracurricular activities, or friends from their own interest groups. However, not all business owners know or understand the importance of networking in their professional lives. The definition of networking is: a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest. This system is critical to the success of your business. In a recent interview, Joanne Randall, the founder and CEO of Leap Year Marketing said, “networking is the single most effective way to increase business. It opens up opportunities for real relationships between people”. The question is why is networking so critical for small to medium business owners?
Networking creates opportunities for business owners to meet like minded people. There is also the chance to make an influential connection that can help you unlock a roadblock or give you a tip that you hadn’t considered before. Ms. Randall suggests reaching out to the local Chamber of Commerce and finding out when they meet. If you are new to these meetings, it is helpful to set a goal of meeting at least three contacts. Not everyone is comfortable in this type of environment. “If you don’t know anyone there, approach one of the people running the event and tell them that you are new. Ask them if there is someone who could introduce you to an ambassador,” says Ms. Randall. Ambassadors are there to make new people feel comfortable and make introductions. These connections made at networking events can help you with referrals and drive sales.
One way networking can drive sales is through referrals. Referrals through connections can all but guarantee buyers will be happy with a purchase or service. Ms. Randall says she uses referrals routinely to connect business owners and drive sales. “If a friend of mine is looking for a service, I will connect that person with another connection of mine who specializes in that service”. This type of referrals can help business owners reach clients they did not know where in need of their products or services.
“It can be lonely running a business”, says Ms. Randall. Networking can provide business owners with resources to turn to when things they run into challenges. “When troubles come, you can’t exactly go running to your employees for a shoulder to cry on,” says Ms. Randall, “but you can call a colleague and say, ‘has this ever happened to you? What should I do’?” Furthermore, networking can cut the learning curve timeline in half. “You can’t possibly create all new business yourself. You need an unofficial sales team working on your behalf,” opined Ms. Randall. She also suggests that once an owners’ network begins to grow, it will become a reciprocal process where an owner will have the opportunity to provide the same support they had received. If an owner works at it, their network will grow over time in both width and depth.