People often say that it’s not what you know, but who you know. This isn’t always the case, but it certainly helps, and there are plenty of success stories from solo entrepreneurs that took advantage of their surroundings to take their venture to the next level.
A robust and resourceful support and business network will allow you to take advantage of not only opportunities that you might otherwise miss, but potentially help you forge new relationships and get ahead of the competition.
Every networking opportunity that expands your network leads to a better chance of a joint venture, partnership, sales opportunity, or even useful market knowledge.
Quality over quantity
Many entrepreneurs take a scattershot approach to networking, trying to accumulate as many contacts as possible over a short period of time. We’re sure that there are plenty of times when somebody would have a legitimate reason for doing so, but for most people this just isn’t worth your time.
If you have a dozen strong partnerships, forged over a period of time, and with the right resources that your own venture needs to succeed, it’s going to be infinitely better than 100+ quasi-contacts who you don’t personally know or can’t vet the quality of.
This doesn’t only apply on your end. Think about how many spam emails your business gets on a daily basis, or even on your own personal email address. At some point, sales and advertising from people that you don’t know or don’t have a unique product that fills a niche you’re looking for become background noise; you delete them and move on.
Consider this: if you’re taking a shotgun approach to businesses, you’re doing the equivalent of email spam. None of them will know you well enough to consider you a strong part of their own networks, and they’ll ultimately go with people that can offer the same with a stronger bond.
How much is too much differs business to business, and individual to individual. Learn your limits and if you’re just starting out move slowly. All you need is one break, after all.
Business networking is something that you’ll be doing passively every time you meet up with somebody for a meal, every social or networking event you go to, every time you pass by an associate on the street, or in every potential introduction.
Due to this, it makes sense to have specific goals and checklists that you can point to as a measure of success or failure.
Start off by thinking of precisely what you want to gain out of any new business contacts. Are you looking for suppliers, sellers, clients, partners, or fellow entrepreneurs? Make a list, and then make some specifics (I want this manufacturer, and if not, this one).
Once you’ve done that, your plan of action should just about write itself. Try to make your goals quantifiable such as increasing your scope for production through partnerships by 10% this year, or finding three new clients through your own steam.
This way you can examine them from a perspective of an entrepreneur rather than slapdashery. Take time to review your plan once in awhile: is it working, and if so, which parts work best and which need to be adjusted?
Networking won’t happen by itself. The next step is actively going out with the express purpose of meeting business partners. A good way to start, unless you have any mutual acquaintances or contacts willing to make an introduction with specific people, is to attend some business conferences or events.
Everybody going to these will be in some way attending to build their network, so don’t feel shady approaching people and making an introduction. This is a period of work for them, just as much as it is for you, and it also presents one of the few times when busy business people won’t be wrapped up in their own business.
Make use of a shared working environment
However, there are also benefits to placing yourself in an environment where other like-minded people are really in their zone, hard at work around you. Attending specific business events isn’t the only way to build your professional network, with an alternative option being to secure yourself office or desk space in a shared group working environment. At NexusHub, you’re surrounded by other working people who are bound to motivate and inspire you daily, as well as opening up your business to new opportunities through endless collaboration and networking potential. Whether you’re a small business owner, a freelancer or a contractor, aligning yourself with other complementary businesses (especially those with related industry verticals) enables you to bounce ideas off each other, keep each other focused, and utilise an invigorating environment that’s great for building long term business relationships.
Contact their contacts
If you’ve built up a significant portfolio of people you can call upon, it’s possible to arrange meets and professional introductions between some of their contacts for yourself. Just remember to offer something in return. Business networking is about establishing trust as much as it is about establishing rapport.
One important part of networking is understanding equivalent exchanges. There’s an element of trust and risk to business networking, if only because everybody has their continual livelihood and that of any employees on the line.
Consider that your partnerships can sometimes be more important than your short term business incentives. If you need to give leeway on a trade deal to accentuate a long-term partner, it might be worth it to negotiate out a future plan rather than cut them asunder. Don’t throw away contacts unless you absolutely need to, or they’re underperforming over a period of time.