You cannot build a business by yourself. Businesses are built on a broad range of social relationships from informal networks to formal inter-organizational networks. These relationships influence decision-making, business efficiency, and growth. To succeed as an entrepreneur, you have to master the art of business networking.
Networking involves creating and maintaining meaningful relationships that can help your business meet its needs. A strong professional network is an invaluable resource with far-reaching benefits from referrals to business solutions. As an aspiring entrepreneur, the ability to build lasting relationships within the business community has a significant impact on the growth trajectory of your business.
In this article, we focus on how to create a network, the benefits of creating a network, and what it takes to maintain a network.
Creating a network
Creating a business network should be prioritized amid the busy schedule and seemingly endless responsibilities. You need to go out of your comfort zone to create a strategic network. Collecting business cards and increasing the number of your people is not enough.
The goal of creating a network is to build strong connections with the right people who can help your business grow. As you interact with people at social gatherings or online communities, you need to scrutinize the kind of people they are to make sure they add value to your business or personal life.
- Online networking
The internet has made networking easier and faster. Social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter provide effective networking opportunities for entrepreneurs. These platforms are teeming with online communities of like-minded entrepreneurs. You can join forums that cover topics of interest to you.
Engage with appropriate industry content on the online networking platforms as much as you can. When you become a useful resource, people will reach out to connect with you. Ultimately, you will not need to seek more contacts actively.
Keep your own social media pages fresh with attractive banners that update other entrepreneurs on happenings and events with your business. Use an online banner maker to select a suitable banner that you can customize by adding copy and your own font and colors.
- Networking events
Networking events provide entrepreneurs the opportunity to gather together and socialize. Take a break from the office and attend a social event like a gallery opening, rooftop soiree, cocktail party, or menu tasting to connect with other entrepreneurs. Such events provide an opportunity for you to unwind and have some fun while growing your network.
Examples of networking events that can help you grow your connections include:
- Industry-specific seminars
- Career fairs
- Community service groups
- Breakfast or luncheon meetings
- Speed networking
- Happy hour events
- Join Nutmeg Business Networking
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Importance of networking
Networking is a valuable skill in entrepreneurship. A sound network can pave the way for the success of your business venture. Some of its benefits include:
- Connecting with like-minded entrepreneurs
Operating a business is tough. Budding entrepreneurs often launch their startups with a lot of passion. This passion cannot last forever and your business may stall as a result. Networking with other entrepreneurs in similar situations provides the opportunity to share experiences and motivate each other.
- Opportunity to share knowledge
Business networks are typically composed of entrepreneurs with varying levels of knowledge and experience on various issues. People in the network share business-related problems and viable solutions. This makes networking platforms ideal spaces for people to disseminate information and gain knowledge.
- Access to referrals
Any business requires a wide reach to improve its bottom line. Networking gives you access to numerous potential clients for your products and services. These direct contacts can also refer your business to their family, friends, and acquaintances providing further opportunities for business expansion.
- Opportunity to build your business profile
Networking gives you and your business exposure. Both online and offline exposure can help boost sales whether you are an online business or a brick-and-mortar business.
- Partnership opportunities
Networking with like-minded people provides the opportunity to share ideas. You may have varying levels of knowledge on different subjects. Collaborating may lead to the formation of beneficial partnerships that lead to success. Getting different perspectives may also drive you to diversify and invest in other businesses with higher returns.
The first step in business networking is building the network. This is relatively straightforward. The second and arguably most important step is maintaining these networks. Like in business, gaining new network connections is easier than maintaining relationships with the old ones.
The goal of networking should be to connect and build lasting relationships. After you’ve collected phone numbers and business cards, you should make an effort to reach out to these networks. Cultivate these relationships to make sure you reap benefits down the road.
These simple pointers should help you maintain relationships in your networks:
- Provide value to your network
You need to provide valuable skills or information to your network when they need it. Solving other people’s problems will inspire trust and forge solid business relationships based on a mutual desire to succeed.
- Stay active in your network
Stay active to avoid appearing like you only engage when you need something. Interact with your contacts in subtle ways even when you are not in need. You can schedule a quarterly coffee or lunch date, send meaningful congratulatory messages or send the occasional email to check upon them.
- Organize and prioritize connections
You cannot run a successful business and find time to stay in touch with everyone in your network. You need to prioritize based on value. Start by grouping your contacts depending on factors such as commercial value to your business, knowledge, profession, the closeness of the relationship, and whatever other metric is important to you.
- Identify superficial connections
Some business relationships are a means to an end. They are not meant to last and you should not force them to live beyond their expiry date. Know when to disengage from a relationship before you become annoying or desperate. Audit the contacts in your network regularly to remove those that are no longer relevant and update information on those that might have changed.
In business, it is all about who you know. Budding entrepreneurs can reap numerous benefits from networking. For the survival and success of your business, you need to create relationships with people who can help you reach greater heights and achieve previously unachievable goals. If your business network is not as big as you’d like it to be, you can continue improving and expanding it by employing effective strategies such as attending social events and joining online business communities.