Networking for Small Businesses – How To Do It

May 10, 2013 in Small Business Networking by lizbygrave

Everyone who comes to SBN meetings comes for one reason: to network. But what does networking mean, and how can you do it effectively? We read a lot these days about the benefits for small business owners of building email mailing lists, sending out electronic newsletters, promoting their product or service – or themselves! – on social media, etc, but does all this really work?

‘Network’ is defined in my Oxford Paperback Dictionary as ‘an arrangement or pattern with intersecting lines’ or ‘a chain of interconnected people or operations’. I guess, as members of the Small Business Network, we all have at least one interconnection; for most of us, our common north London location adds a second one. Some SBN members work in the same area, such as alternative therapy or business coaching, so that adds a third interconnection.

In the broader sense, for a small business owner, a network can include anyone whom he or she meets, talks to, or even has phone or email communication – i.e. anyone in the room at the Small Business Network meetings. Even someone who seems completely irrelevant to you and your business – someone who works in a completely unrelated field, who doesn’t show any interest in what you do – can become a valuable member of your network because they could well pass on your details to friends, family and others in another part of their network.

But the key to successful networking doesn’t lie solely in the make-up of each small business owner’s network: it lies in how they use the contacts they make. That does NOT mean sending blanket emails to everyone whose address you have in the hope they might be interested in what you are selling (for let’s not kid ourselves: every marketing email is aimed at selling our product or service). In fact, bombarding a contact with emails – be they invitations; notices of workshops, promotions, etc; newsletters; Friends requests; repeat Tweets; or anything else – is the quickest way to turn a positive contact into a negative one, because the recipient of your emails will start to press the delete button without even opening the email.

If someone shows interest in your product or service, by all means send them a newsletter, invite them to a workshop, tell them about a special offer. But if after two or three emails, you get no response, take them off the list – or, better still, ask them if they would like to continue receiving emails from you.

For a small business owner, smart networking really means making note of anyone you meet who you feel might truly be interested in your offering or, conversely, whose product or service may be beneficial to you, if not now, then sometimes in the future. If, like me, your mind is a sieve, take their card and keep it somewhere prominent or write their details down on paper or in your e-files;  at the very least, tidy their name away in a corner of your brain.

Get to know the people you meet regularly, such as fellow Small Business Network members, so that you have an idea of how they work, what they do, and what they may want from you. That way,  if you are having a special offer or are launching a new product and service, you can trawl the recesses of your mind or your very efficient contact list and target your mailings.

Getting to know your contacts helps you benefit from networking in another way: if you are looking for a product or service, you know who might be able to help. For example, I am changing the designer for my magazine, Your Allotment, but the person I hoped to use can’t take on anymore work. I phoned or emailed everyone I knew who might be able to help: the answer came from someone I know socially – not a business owner – who happens to be art director of the Sunday Express. One of her friends and fellow colleagues fits the bill perfectly.

You never know when or where you might meet someone again or when you might need someone’s help, so keep your mind open and your contact book up-to-date. Just use your contacts wisely if you really want to gain the greatest benefits networking can bring: friendship, trust and, with luck, an increase in your customer base.