Why Your Business Should Actively Network
Building and sustaining connections is essential in enabling SMEs to maintain and improve their business development objectives. But why do so many believe they don’t know how to go about it?
Research undertaken by the Business Schools within the Universities of Surrey and Greenwich shows that SMEs devote less time in creating these networks than larger organisations.
The report, ‘Generating Social Capital’, highlights the importance of generating networks and valuable connections.
What is social capital?
You can define social capital as the number of useful connections you make with other people. People with large networks of friends and acquaintances have lots of social capital, whereas those with small networks have little.
Networking, both off and online, is always beneficial for SMEs; the larger your network, the greater the number of approaches or referrals you receive.
But while SMEs recognise the importance of both online and offline networking, some still look upon social media as a necessary evil, even though it could be hurting their business opportunities.
The age of online networking
A high percentage of SMEs believe that social media should never become a substitute for face-to-face networking and events, with approximately two-thirds dedicating one to six hours a week on this activity.
However, the research suggests that SMEs who frequently engage with social media can steadily boost their profiles to compete with larger organisations successfully.
The challenge facing SMEs is how best to integrate their online and offline activities to complement their business and generate social capital. Professor Mark Saunders of the University of Surrey states that “The research conducted shows that SMEs must be more strategic when engaging in online and offline activities to maximise their effectiveness and avoid plummeting into a trap of time-wasting.”
Sir Michael Snyder, who commissioned the research, added: “Developing a strategy that includes both online and offline activities is vital to the business development of SMEs.”
How to be a great networker
There are a few key ways in which small businesses can be more effective when it comes to networking, both face-to-face and online:
- Don’t be an ‘event junkie’: Be selective about which events you attend by having a clear strategy. If it’s not going to help you move towards the goals you’ve outlined – either by learning something new or connecting with someone important – it probably isn’t worth your time. If you’re unsure, you can always ask a member of your team to go on your behalf.
- Blend traditional face-to-face networking with online networking: Use events and meetings as opportunities to build online connections; be sure to catch the name of everyone you meet and spend half an hour the following day connecting with them on LinkedIn or Facebook. They’re much more likely to remember you the day after meeting you, so you have a higher chance they’ll accept your request.
- Broaden your reach by networking with some different communities: Go to events that expand beyond your current expertise; that way, you’ll find new people outside of your professional bubble so that you can expand your network even further.
- Start a conversation: It’s more likely that someone will remember a person with plenty of personality than someone who is all business. Encourage people you meet to talk about their interests; it makes for a fantastic ice-breaker the next time you meet and makes you memorable.
- Keep track of opportunities that your network produces: Tracking where opportunities are coming from will give you an insight into which areas of your network are most beneficial to your business. You should spend the majority of your times on areas of your network that generate the most opportunities, which gives you a priority when you attend networking events that follow.
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