Networking is about Building Relationships
Before I started my consulting business, I didn’t network at all because as a working stiff for a large hearing aid manufacturer, I didn’t need to, nor did I really have time to because of all the work I had and all the business trips. On the other hand, my husband, as an independent entrepreneur, did a LOT of networking. He’d casually mention the coffee meeting that he was going to or the networking lunch that he was going to. He’d tell me about the business that he got after the networking meeting or the new contact that was going to refer some work to him in the future. I never really paid attention to his networking stories until after I started my consulting business.
To grow as a solopreneur, I need to expand my network of business contacts and most importantly, BUILD RELATIONSHIPS. And building relationships is what marketing is really about. You’re creating and building relationships with people, some of whom may be your customers now or down the road. So networking is another form of marketing, except its more personalized and it’s definitely a long-term marketing tactic. Beyond marketing though, networking is a very important tool to ensure the health of your business, regardless of whether you work for yourself or for a big corporation.
So what are the benefits of networking? Why spend precious time meeting people for coffee, drinks, or lunch when you can be doing something else? Or why spend time joining different online networking groups when you could be investing your time in other marketing strategies?
The Top 8 Benefits of Networking
1. Marketing Your Business
The most obvious benefit of networking is marketing your business and yourself. Networking as a marketing tactic is a long-term strategy, whether you belong to a networking group or whether you are networking one-on-one with people you meet at different events or groups.
When you are networking, you have a captive audience to introduce yourself, your business, or your products and services. Keep in mind though that it will take time for someone to understand your business and trust you enough to start doing business with you or refer other people to you.
If you’re creating blog posts and valuable content, your network can help you share and show off your work, which is great for building your social media following and increasing your visibility on social media.
2. Help Support Your Business
If you are solopreneur or have a small business, you’ll likely run into instances where you need help, whether it’s redesigning your website, running your marketing program, or crunching your numbers. What better way to find people to help you then to network with others so that you when you need a specific service, you can turn to them for help? It saves time when you need to find a web designer, a marketing strategist, or an accountant.
Even as an employee of a large company, your company may be looking for expertise and support that’s not currently available within the company. Your company may need to turn to freelancers or find help with special projects that have a quick turnaround time. By having an established network, you’ll be able to find someone quickly and someone you’re already familiar with that you’ll be confident in referring.
3. Refer Business to Each Other
Just because you are networking with someone doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be your customer. They might not be your client but they might have access to a network that is a part of your target audience. Or they might know someone else who needs your expertise.
It’s important to note that networking is a two-way street. With any relationship, there should be benefits and reciprocity on both sides. In a true relationship, you should be helping each other out, without expecting anything in return. In a real networking relationship, the other person should be paying your back down the road, also without any expectations.
4. Building Strong Relationships
Networking online is a great way to start building a relationship but nothing beats in-person networking to make you, your brand, and your business stand out in a person’s mind. I see a lot of people online in different networking groups and they advertise their business but most of that doesn’t “stick” in my mind unless I meet them in-person.
By networking in person, you’ll have a captive audience to talk about you and your business. It’s easier to describe your business and your services in an in-person conversation with someone than when you’re online. You can read someone’s body language to see their level of engagement and whether you need to finetune your message. Networking in person is more continuous as well since you are actually having an immediate conversation. When you’re online, it could take minutes, hours, or days for someone to respond and the immediacy is lost, as well as any trains of thought.
5. Establishing a Safety Net
Even if you are working for a company, it’s important to network with other people outside of your industry or your company. If you are restructured out of your position at your company, having an established network can speed up your job search and increase the number of opportunities available to you. Your network may be able to introduce you to new companies, new fields, or even recruiters who can all help you with your job search.
If you are contemplating a career change, people in your network are great resources to find out more about how they manage the career change, especially if you are moving from being an employee to becoming a small business owner. Or if you are planning to jump from one industry to another, you can look to people in your network for advice and support. They likely have tips to help you manage the transition or have suggestions on how to make the transition smoother.
6. Share Ideas and Get Support from Each Other
Sharing ideas and getting moral support from your network is a great way to build your business and avoid pitfalls. If you network with like-minded individuals or people in affiliated industries as your business, you’ll be able to get valuable advice from others who have struggled with the same issues. Or you may be able to provide others with helpful ideas and recommendations for their business.
Your network would also be a great place to get moral support for your business. For example, if you are looking to offer a new service or product, your network would be a great resource to provide feedback on your idea. They could also act as a focus group for you to test out your new service or product offering.
7. Increasing Your Confidence
Talking about yourself and about your business can be nerve-wracking for some people. For introverts, networking one-on-one may be ideal to help you build your confidence in a smaller, less formal setting compared to networking in a large group or event.
Or maybe the thought of public speaking is making you rethink whether you want to be a small business owner. Networking in smaller groups or one-on-one will allow you to practice talking about your business and yourself. The more you practice, the more confident you will get about marketing yourself and your business.
8. Finding New Friendships
If you are networking with like-minded individuals and building relationships on a deeper level, a side benefit of networking is to develop new friendships. Networking means you increase the number of people that you get to know, which means it’s a great way for you to meet new people who aren’t currently in your immediate social circle. For me, if I didn’t network, I wouldn’t have met all the great people I am currently in touch with because my social circle is very different than my business circle. And who doesn’t need more friends?!?!?!
Whether you are an employee, a small business owner, networking is one form of marketing and establishing relationships. Just like any other marketing strategy, you need to determine how networking fits into your marketing strategy. Does networking align with your business and marketing goals? If networking is part of your marketing strategy, how do you decide what networking groups work well for you? Read more in my previous post about the questions you should ask before joining a networking group.
Can you think of any other big benefits of networking? If so, please share them below. I’d love to hear them!