How important is networking for my business?

When I think of networking I always think of a hall.  Full of strangers in suits.  Me, meandering nervously through the crowd, desperately trying to think of a conversation starter or to make eye contact so I can hand over a business card!  

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Not being a particularly confident person face to face, this part of business always filled me with dread.  How would I build my business if I struggled with my ability to "sell" my business and services confidently?

With this being Local Business Week, and following on from last night's mini blog, I thought it would be a good opportunity to look at networking and the importance of this for the smaller businesses.

So what is the point of networking?  How is it important to my business?

Business Networking is a valuable way to expand and share your knowledge, learn from the success of others, gain new clients and spread the word about your business.  It can provide you with a great source of connections and opportunities.

Business growth is very dependant on making connections and making yourself "visible" is a sure-fire way to raise your business profile and get your face known and recognised. 

Networking isn't all about making a sale though.  It's also a great place for meeting like-minded people, who share the same passion as you, with whom you can also collaborate.

What is the best way to network?

With the explosion of social media, our ability to network with new people on a (practically) daily basis has become second nature.  That's not to say it's not still important to do the more traditional face to face networking also. 

So how does "virtual" networking compare to meeting people face to face?

Pros of Social Networking vs Face to Face:

  1. "Instant" Connections - social media allows you to connect with a large number of people quickly.  Something, when done face to face, would take you months if not years to achieve.
  2. Perfect for those with a nervous disposition! - it gives you the opportunity to learn about someone before you actually talk or meet them; giving you that sense of "friendship", the ability to find out likes and interests to help set discussion topics with confidence.
  3. The world on your doorstep - With the traditional form of networking, your network only extended to wherever you were. Now you can network across the globe, with social media profiles accessible to you no matter where you are.  You just wouldn't be able to cover the same scale with face to face networking alone.

Cons of Social Networking vs Face to Face:

  1. Trust - Referring back to my earlier blog, meeting in person allows you to show your true personality - something that cannot be replicated online: When face to face, your positive behaviour and body language will result in positive reactions towards you.  This in turn helps builds trust, loyalty and a strong relationship.  Therefore, further face to face interaction may be needed if you want a stronger, loyal business relationship.

  2. How's your memory for names and faces? - Even if you have a great memory, seeing thousands of people on your screen means it’s going to be difficult to remember individuals.  You also have to remember this is the same for the people you are making contact with - you need to make your profile stand out so that you don't get lost in the sea of profiles.  The smaller, more personable, face to face meetings makes it a lot easier to take everything in.

For most of us to network successfully, you’ll likely want to use a combination of both - social media to make connections with a wide range of potential leads, then follow up with promising connections face-to-face. 

Lastly (but definitely not least) - follow up and maintain those relationships!  Leave a good impression - word of mouth is more effective than any other type of marketing...

Best wishes, EVA