When you first decide to set up business for yourself, you will hear a lot about networking. Networking simply means that you have made contact with other businesses and you can all work together to help each other.

For example, in the building trade, people often want more than one job done, so carpenters, plumbers and electricians can all help one another out by helping each other to get more work.

Networking also extends to help and advice. Most small business are happy to share their experiences with others and can recommend other businesses who can help you, such as accountants.

Building up your own business network can help you in many ways.

  • You can use the expertise and services of another company to complement your own.
  • It allows you to offer services to your customers which you may not offer yourself.
  • It can help you develop your business and therefore make more money.
  • It gives you a nice contact base to call on if you need any help or advice for your business.

There are different methods to set up a business network, and they won’t all work for everyone. Try to start slowly and with a method you feel comfortable with.

Direct approach

Nothing beats the direct approach in business. This can be a face to face meeting, a letter or a phone call. If you do your research you can create a list of local businesses who you feel you could help and you could help you. Don’t just contact everyone. It’s best to target the companies who offer exactly the service you’re looking for. Do your research and find out what you can about these companies. You may find they recently received a contract which you may be able to help them with.

Before you contact anyone make a note of:

  • What you can offer them. This is important because if you don’t tell them, they simply won’t know.
  • What they do and how they do it. If you understand how they work, you can personalise your approach.
  • A bit about their company. If you show some interest in them as a company, you’ll get a better result.
  • What they can offer you. Explain this to them, but make sure the arrangement will be beneficial to both sides.

Then sit down and work out a targeted pitch aimed specifically at them. Always include information about your own company and services and tell them how you can help benefit their business.

Local business groups

Every area will have groups aimed at helping small businesses. The Chamber of Commerce and the BNI (Business Networking International) are possibly two of the biggest and most well-known, and they usually have groups in most areas of the country. These both hold regular meetings where members can get together and find out how they can work together.

There will also be other local business groups but they may be harder for you to find. The local council may be able to give you some information.

Another place to try is the Facebook page for your local area. Most towns have these and other businesses looking to network will be more than happy to tell you of any small business groups you can join.

Any group aimed at small businesses is very good for networking as everyone is there for the same reason. Simply chatting to other members is a good way of establishing working relationships. The groups also offer help and advice on business matters, and all members can help each other out with advice.

Trade shows

A good way to meet small businesses is at trade shows. Companies who have an exhibit at these are usually more than happy to discuss what they do and how they can help you.

If you go, always take your business card and some information about your business may prove useful too. At the end of the show, any exhibitor will have plenty of business card, so if you have provided them with something else, they are far more likely to remember you.

Online groups

There are many places where you can find business help and support online. Be very careful though what you sign up to.

One of the main sites for networking is LinkedIn. This allows you to create a profile and join specific groups. There are groups for most every type of business and these have articles posted by other members of the group and the chance to start discussions. It is a good way of finding if there is anyone else in your business who may be able to help you.

Tips

If you want to make the most of your networking opportunities, always:

  • Carry a business card.
  • Be realistic: don’t offer something you can’t deliver.
  • Follow up any referrals as soon as you can.
  • Follow up referrals you’ve given to other people. It’s your reputation on the line if they don’t deliver the goods.
  • Find out about the other person / business first, before telling them how you can help them.
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