Small Business Success Tips - Networking
Networking: Two-way word-of-mouth advertising, repeated many times.
The above definition may seem oversimplified, because a large part of networking is
more active than just advertising, but essentially, you are exchanging information.
What makes networking effective is an understanding that good actions beget good
actions in return. When you can help someone fulfill a need, doing so is a good action.
That good action toward them makes them not only willing, but eager to provide a good
action toward you.
Networking bears a striking resemblance to a barter system. You earn credit by helping
as many people as you can to fulfill needs, and then when you have a need, all those
people in your network(s) will help you fulfill it.
Of course, the needs we are talking about are products and services. If you are an
accountant, you cannot possibly locate everyone who needs accounting services all on your
own. Nor, if you need an air conditioning repair service, can you find the best service
for a cost you can afford just by calling a half-dozen and asking them. Networking solves
both these problems.
Everyone networks. All it means is you know someone, he mentions he needs a mechanic,
and if you know a mechanic you can recommend, you tell him. You say you need a plumber,
and he tells you the plumber he used and liked. See? Two-way word-of-mouth advertising.
The more people you know and share information with, the bigger your network.
Networking companies go to lengths to formally bring people together, giving them a
chance to get to know each other and potentially help each other, in exchange for dues or
attendance fees or both. As with any kind of business, some of these companies are more
successful than others. Should you join a networking company, and if so, which one?
It depends on your business. If your business has a widespread local market, then yes,
you probably should attend an introductory meeting (the first one or two are usually free
to newcomers) and find out what it is about. You might want to try several local
networking groups to find out which you are most comfortable with.
The owner of a very specialized or technical business with a specific and known
potential clientele (e.g., airplane electrical system repairs) can probably spend his
promotional time and money more wisely than by joining a networking company, but he should
definitely make an effort to widen his network within the whole airplane repair community.
Which brings us to social or internet networking.
Social networking for promotional purposes is a high investment of time for a low
return, if you do it yourself. There are companies that specialize in running social
network campaigns for businesses, and some of them have proven to be very effective in
generating leads. They have the time and know-how to focus on building a social network
specific to your potential clientele. But such social networking is not two-way, except
when someone contacts your business with an inquiry. So social networking as a promotional
activity is more like advertising. Useful, but a topic for another time.
Internet networking, however, is extremely useful when there is a fairly focused
industry spread across the country. Say you have started a small winery. You would be well
advised to join internet groups, not only of potential direct clients, such as
restaurateurs and wine societies, but related industries, like tourism and exporting. Make
intelligent or appreciative comments on posts in their forums, start discussions, and
build your own groups, mentioning your website with your signature whenever possible. You
will meet people whom you can help and who can help you.
Networking, whether in person or on the internet, does not (usually) produce overnight
results, but the results grow steadily and are long-term, so the investment is worth it if
you are in the game for the long haul.
Don Dewsnap is the author of
Small Business Magic, published by Oak
Wand Publishing. Small Business Magic details the principles of quality necessary to
business success, applying to all aspects of business from production to sales. The
principles of quality are not well known, and almost never applied to their full potential.