What Is Business Networking & What Are the Benefits?
How to Make the Most of the Benefits of Business Networking
Business networking is the process of establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with other business people and potential clients and/or customers. The primary purpose of business networking is to tell others about your business and hopefully turn them into customers.
The Benefits of Business Networking
- New contacts and referrals - The most obvious benefit of networking is to meet potential clients and/or generate referrals which you can then follow up on to hopefully add to your client base. Networking can also help you identify opportunities for partnerships, joint ventures, or new areas of expansion for your business.
- Visibility - You need to meet and communicate with potential clients and business partners on a regular basis to maintain your business relationships. Attending business luncheons and other networking events raises your personal profile and can help keep you front and center in the minds of the right people.
- Staying current - In an ever-changing business climate it is important to keep up with the target market conditions as well as overall trends in your industry. Knowing the market is the key to developing a successful marketing plan. Attending seminars and networking with your peers and business associates on a regular basis will help you stay current.
- Problem solving - In addition to the potential of increasing your business you can often find solutions to your own business problems or needs by networking. For example, if your business needs the services of a bookkeeper, accountant, or lawyer you may find the ideal candidate via networking, or if your business needs equity financing for startup you may be able to find an angel investor or venture capitalist through networking channels.
- Sharing knowledge and experience - Networking is ideal for expanding your knowledge by taking advantage of the viewpoints and prior experience of others. If for example, you are thinking of getting into the import or export business you may be able to get some valuable advice from someone else who has done similar business internationally. Taking advantage of the experiences of others before you invest time and money in a particular venture can be invaluable.
- Confidence and morale - Most business people are optimistic and positive. Regularly associating with such people can be a great morale boost, particularly in the difficult early phases of a new business. If you are not naturally outgoing, regularly meeting new people can also boost your confidence and on a personal basis you may form new friendships with like-minded people.
The purpose of business networking is to increase business revenue - one way or another. The thickening of the bottom line can be immediately apparent, as in developing a relationship with a new client, or develop over time, as in learning a new business skill.
Make the Most of Your Business Networking
1) Meeting people in person seems old fashioned in the digital age, but wherever possible you should network face-to-face. Social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are excellent ways to communicate with customers and business associates, but they do not substitute for meeting people in person. A lot of local business is still done on a handshake basis, and the best way to network with other local business owners and entrepreneurs is through business groups.
2) The best business networking groups operate as exchanges of business information, ideas, and support. The most important skill for effective business networking is listening; focusing on how you can help the person you are listening to rather than on how he or she can help you is the first step to establishing a mutually beneficial relationship.
3) Don't spread yourself too thin. Business networking is about cultivating relationships - you're not going to be able to do that if you're trying to be an active participant with five or six different groups. And you need to be an active participant in whatever networking group you join. It's contributing that will bring you the benefits of networking you're looking for, such as more business. You need to not only attend the meetings of your networking group regularly, but go prepared to offer something of value to the group.
4) Choose the networking group that's best for you. A strong contact referral group such as BNI, whose purpose is for members to find and exchange referrals, operates very differently than a community service club such as Rotary International whose primary purpose is to serve the community.
Business Networking Groups
1) Local business groups - Most cities and towns everywhere have local business groups that meet on a regular basis. In North America the largest business group is the Chamber of Commerce. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1912 and the Canadian CoC soon afterwards, in 1925. According to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce website, the CoC's primary mandate is to "advocate for public policies that will foster a strong, competitive economic environment that benefits businesses, communities and families".
Typically, in addition to other member benefits such as discounts from corporate members the CoC regularly holds luncheons, workshops on business topics, and other networking events, providing members with many opportunities to connect with other organizations.
Look also for local groups such as Downtown Business Associations, Home Business Associations and Women's Networking Associations, just to name three of the most common.
2) BNI (Business Network International) - Created by Dr. Ivan Misner to find ways to increase clients for his personal consulting business in California in 1984, BNI has become a worldwide phenomena. The purpose of each BNI group is to provide referrals for its members. Only one person from each profession specialty is allowed to join a chapter of BNI, which eliminates the possibility of competition among members of the group.
3) Mastermind groups - Mastermind groups were the brainchild of Napoleon Hill,who wrote Think and Grow Rich among other works, in the early 1900's. "Mastermind groups offer a combination of brainstorming, education, peer accountability and support in a group setting to sharpen your business and personal skills" (The Success Alliance).
4) Community service groups - Rotary International is one example of such a group. Paul Harris formed the Rotary Club of Chicago on 23 February 1905, so professionals with diverse backgrounds could exchange ideas, form meaningful, lifelong friendships, and give back to their communities. Groups such as Rotary can be ideal business networking groups for those who enjoy mixing service to their community with networking.
5) Professional associations - Specific industries have specific challenges and opportunities and those who also work in your industry will know them best. Membership in such groups can also boost your professional standing.
6) Social media/ online business networking groups - One of the things the internet excels at is creating opportunities for people to get together online so social media/online business networking groups are legion. If you're a business professional, you definitely want to be on LinkedIn. Other than that, once again pick the networking group or groups that are the best fit for your business and your goals.