Ahhh, networking. The term that is so synonymous with the business world (and not always in a good way). If you’re a small business owner, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the benefits of networking. Hey, maybe you’re already part of some networking groups but perhaps you feel like they aren’t really your ‘thing’.
I am going to help demystify the world of business networking as well as offer tips and advice for getting the most out of your networking opportunities.
So, what exactly is business networking?
Well by definition it is the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.
Which means yes, interacting with other people – usually <gasp> face-to-face. Not being terribly introverted (I have my moments) I am aware that the thought of interacting with strangers, in person, in a somewhat ‘salesy’ manner frightens the crap outta some peeps.
If this is you, don’t stress- there are plenty of businesses who have had major success sans traditional-networking and you could definitely be amongst them. What I would suggest though, is that perhaps you just need to find the perfect events or a group that is suited to your individual needs.
For example, if you hate the idea of huge, corporate-style networking events then probably best to avoid those larger corporate-targeted networking events, eh?
Networking is no longer suits, balls and business cards.
Contrary to popular belief, networking doesn’t have to be schmoozing, sales and buying other people drinks. I think there was definitely an element of this to it when business was men-only and their wives were home cooking dinner for their 2.5 kids.
Thankfully the times are a-changing, well, they’ve changed IMO and I believe women have been pivotal in shaking things up on the business networking front.
For this reason, there are more and more groups emerging specifically for women. Groups centered around support, sharing advice, stories and overall, genuine connection. If you ask me, women are made for networking.
It’s a great position to be in if you are a woman embarking on the start-up life. Even better if you’re a mum because us mums know a thing or two about exchanging information. I mean, it ain’t called the mum grapevine for nothing.
Benefits of joining a networking group
1. Making friends.
This is pretty self-explanatory and perhaps you feel like you already ‘have enough friends’ (which actually baffles me, like is that even a thing?) The beauty of these biz friendships though, is that they are often going through the exact same things you are. The entrepreneurial life doesn’t make a lot of sense to people looking from the outside-in.
When I was a teenager, I remember reading Richard Bransons’s autobiography Losing My Virginity and I vividly recall thinking the guy was nuts.
He would try a new venture, invest money and time into it and then it wouldn’t work out. Then he would go on to try something new, I just didn’t understand why he didn’t go and get a regular job instead. Now, much further down the road – I understand why he kept going and it was his ‘never give up’ attitude that saw him make his big business moves in the future.
Other business owners have the same drive, same ambition and interest in levelling-up in biz and you’ll often find, life, too. Being around likeminded people who ‘get you’ majorly increases your own vibe and only good things can come from that.
2. Instant catalogue of services.
As you know, owning a small business often means you’re constantly needing to work on your business. At many stages in your journey you’ll be needing things like web developers, graphic designers, accountants, business coaches, venue hire, the list goes on.
There’s also those life admin tasks that will crop up along the way too, builders, plumbers, physiotherapists, personal trainers, bakers and more. Building a supportive network around you means you have people to ask, straight away. The best part is you will be not only supporting local business but a friend, too (refer to point 1).
3. Exchange of information and advice.
If you’re in the right group – your peers are generous and forthcoming with their learnings and support. They’re willing to share their mistakes to prevent you from making the same ones. Or sometimes they can offer a different perspective or way of doing things.
Networking also gives you the opportunity to return the favour in sharing your knowledge. Before you say ‘but I don’t know anything!’ – that’s simply not true. Everyone has something to offer those around them and you might just surprise yourself in how much wisdom you have to share with the world! Even if you feel like you don’t have the skills or expertise to offer professional advice, you can also give your perspective as a potential consumer of their products or services, which can be massively helpful in itself.
4. Word-of-mouth referrals.
When people get to know you, you become synonymous with your niche in your networking group. Instagram guru? Email marketing whiz? Jewellery maker? Insurance go-to? Whenever someone has a problem that needs solving in your niche, you will immediately be front-of-mind. This extends outside of the group too – your networking pals refer to their own network including their family and friends. This is also why making authentic connections based in friendship should be more of a goal in networking than selling yourself.
If people happen to have a need for a product or service that you provide, they will come to you more often than not if they like you because they want to support you. I mean, they also have to like your product or service but if it’s a choice between your product A and Mr. Random product B of the same quality, they will choose you – Every. Single. Time.
Just to back this up with a study – 92% of people will trust word of mouth referrals by their family and friends over ANY other advertising source (as per this Nielsen study).
For some context, let’s look at a real life example:
You’re asking around where’s somewhere nice to go for dinner and even though online reviews have some pull, you will more often than not end up going where your mum/bestie/cousin told you was a great restaurant. Amiright?
Okay, so you’ve decided that you want to give networking a go – where do you start to look for your people?
How to find a networking group.
There are some fantastic networking groups across Australia (and the world) and you’re sure to find one that’s suited to you and your business.
My first experience of networking came when I saw an ad for a local women’s networking group called Fusion Biz Co (or Fusion Biz Babes as it was known back then!)
I was so lucky to stumble upon this start-up when I too, was starting up. Ash, the owner is all about bringing women together in a supportive and fun environment minus the schmoozy, salesy vibe. Highly recommend it if you live in the Perth or Great Southern regions in Western Australia.
Meetup is a great app for finding local networking events and so is Facebook. There are hundreds of groups dedicated to women in business in Australia and you are sure to find some posts, threads or information about groups close to you.
Here are some popular groups to get you started:
Join me for an Honest Biz Brunch
I also run a regular intimate, in-person networking event for women in Perth called the Honest Biz Brunch.
Not your ‘typical’ networking event, these brunches have small group numbers (max 8 people) and there’s a focus on authentic connection with unfiltered stores and honest conversations around life as a business owner. There’s something so wholesome about sharing a delicious meal, a nice cuppa and having a chat.
They sell out super fast, so if you’d like to be first to get details of upcoming events, sign up to the waitlist.
Networking is also fantastic for those in the pre-startup phase of business.
Even if you haven’t officially started in your business yet, networking groups are still a wonderful resource to draw from.
Whether you’re still researching, saving funds, about to launch or feeling like you’re in limbo, networking groups can provide the inspiration and motivation you need to simply begin.
In fact, you’ll be surrounded by people who have all walked the same path as you – everyone starts from zero at some point. So, who better to seek some advice and support from?
Tips to get the most from your business networking.
1. Don’t be ‘that guy’ (aka spammer)
We all know ‘that guy’. You know, the one who is always shoving their business card into everyone’s hand and calculating what they can use you for. Or the ones nonstop posting in the Facebook group with their special offers and salesy posts.
If you focus on genuine connection, it will work out far better in the long term than purely trying to secure business deals and sell your shit.
2. Stick to one group.
Another piece of advice when it comes to networking, is to stick to one group, especially in the beginning.
If you’re looking for authentic connection and support, then immersing yourself in a singular group is going to mean you can get to know people really well vs. attending a different event every other week and not getting to really know anybody. You’ll forget names, where you met people and what their businesses are – which can make you come across as disinterested or flakey.
It can also be super tiring and overwhelming to constantly be attending large meet and greet networking events. Whereas when you start to build your group of biz besties, those events become more fun and nourishing, because you get to catch up with your old faithful’s, as well as introduce yourself to some new faces.
3. Be yourself.
Sometimes being amongst other high-performing business owners can give us a touch of comparisonitis. We can feel like we need to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ and end up trying to project a persona instead of just being our true selves. Being inauthentic will always bite you in the bum, eventually. Be yourself. There’s no one better qualified to be you and what you are is worthy – remember that.
If you are keen to take things up a notch in your biz, then get yourself out there! You have so much to offer and learn in the process.
Remembering, amazing things never come from inside comfort zones.