What is business networking? Networking, in business, is where a group of people, often with a common business goal, meet to pool ideas, supplier details or other professionals with key business knowledge with the goal of helping business grow.
Does it work? Well, opinion is divided; here we will try to pick apart some of the key elements of networking and discover why some people are dead against it, whereas others believe it to be a vital cornerstone to business growth.
In most cases networking is about finding a few quality relationships that may be nurtured and used for mutual business growth. These connections are often better if they are a few genuinely useful contacts for you and your business rather than a multitude of semi useful contacts, which will take time to nurture without a business reward.
It can be argued that networking only works for certain types of businesses. Individual service-based businesses, such as accountants, solicitors or financial advisors can often find networking is a business asset and generate more business through the natural referral process. However, these relationships take time to develop, and it takes time for people to trust others enough to give a referral. By referring a customer to someone else for services, you are putting your business reputation at risk. Therefore, referrals through networking take time and a lot of nurturing. People need to trust you before they will recommend you to their customer base. Remember, this will work both ways – you would normally be expected to recommend their services to your customers too, so the trust needs to work in both directions. Although networking can provide a new or increased customer base this growth will take time, often years. That’s a lot of time and effort that could also be used to directly develop your business.
For many businesses, especially for those in the retail sector, time may often be better placed following up with customers and digital marketing for sales rather than spending time away from the ‘shop floor’. The people best placed to help you grow your business are often your direct competitors, so building a mutually beneficial relationship with them can be difficult.
It is vital when embarking on networking to find the best-fit group that works for you and your business. If you are going to put time and effort into forming business relationships with group members, you need to be confident that your business will grow from the time spent.
Traditionally, networking was done face-to-face, meeting as a group on a regular basis. However, networking has changed through Covid, with many groups now connecting remotely. This gives the option for people with busy schedules or in remote locations to join the conversation from the comfort of their own office space. Taking the travel time out of networking may mean it becomes more time efficient for more types of businesses.
However, networking does not always take the form of a group of individuals together, social media platforms such as Linked in, Facebook, Instagram are all forms of networking. Getting your business name in a public domain through any type of networking will eventually translate into sales. Every business knows that word of mouth is a vital form of business growth, social media networking is another form of this.
Other areas can tenuously be put under the umbrella of networking; belonging to business forums or finding a good mentor. Even people that are reticent about networking would be positive about the importance of peer recommendations, which in itself is a form of networking.
In conclusion, traditional forms of group networking take time and effort before a business will see referrals. However, if networking is a good fit for your business it can well be worth the initial time and effort spent. Indeed some business types thrive on referrals alone, whether these are from business connections or customer referrals. Other businesses, often more retail sales driven businesses, would benefit more from spending the same time and effort directly helping their business grow through digital marketing for sales or following up with customers. In the end only you know your business best and can choose which methods are worth the time to increase trade.