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Networking tips for business owners

From creating marketing campaigns, to working with factories and product suppliers, balancing their finances, and hiring staff, small business owners need to familiarise themselves with perhaps some very unfamiliar jobs.

It's no secret that small business owners are incredible multi-taskers who often need to learn new things in order to work on every part of their business themselves - because they largely work independently or with small teams.

But how do business owners learn all of these new things, or even determine what types of skills or tools they need to master in order for their businesses to thrive? And how do they meet the right people to help them find their customers?

Many successful small business owners will tell you that the key to their continual business improvement and success is in taking time away from their daily to-do list to get out and network with like-minded people who can help them to generate new ideas, stay inspired, and meet others who can teach them new things and help them to run their businesses better.

Social networking platforms are great for professional networking, but there’s no substitute for meeting people face-to-face. Like it or loathe it, pressing the flesh can transform your small business by creating powerful referral networks. Plus, your LinkedIn and Twitter contacts can feel far more valuable when you’ve heard first-hand what someone does in their role and how they can help others in business.

Here are some ways to ensure your networking efforts have the maximum impact on your small business.

Join a structured networking group

Many networking events are geared towards corporate salary earners rather than small business owners or sole traders. Instead of attending networking events that don’t best serve your needs, join a structured networking group designed specifically for small business owners. As founder of Fresh Networking, Darren Kelk recognises the importance of networking for small businesses owners.

“Networking provides huge opportunities for business owners and we believe all professionals that sell a product or service can benefit immensely from networking,” says Darren. “A structured networking group provides business owners with more than just a steady stream of referrals. They form peer group relationships that allow them to work collaboratively on projects. They also have access to critical business knowledge, advice, both professional and personal development opportunities and industry insights as part of their membership.”

Keep it local

Some of the best opportunities to network can often be found within the local community that your business operates in. Many local councils run regular events for their business communities and these events represent a golden opportunity to connect with other local business owners who may become clients themselves or refer customers to your business.

Beyond organised networking events set up by local councils, there are also many Facebook groups set up specifically for small business owners operating within a community. These groups are a place to share knowledge, ask for referrals and support other business owners.

Easy-to-join and free to access from your laptop or smartphone, joining a local Facebook group for small businesses is one of the easiest ways to connect with other business owners in your local area. Simply by contributing advice or ideas to conversations, your business will automatically have visibility. It’s that easy!

Know the value of networking

Many small business owners mistakenly believe that networking isn’t essential to their business, so they don’t prioritise it. Putting networking on the backburner can be tempting when you’re trying to juggle all the tasks that come with running a small business.

However networking is valuable whether you’re running a home-based online business or a busy retail space with staff. Darren knows the opportunities that can come from joining networking groups.

“Good networkers do significant business because people want to be aligned with them. You alone are in control of the outcome and results of your networking. You don’t have to learn technology, you don’t have to have a big business and you can be a complete novice,” he says.

Considering the incredible impact networking can have on a small business, it’s wise to put networking opportunities on the top of your agenda.

Be genuine and listen carefully

Approaching all networking opportunities as a learning experience is important, so sometimes being an active listener can have a greater impact than having a great story.

Take on networking as an opportunity to learn and hear about different perspectives rather than trying to gain quick wins for yourself, recommends Brent Duffy, director of Sydney leadership consulting firm Maximus International.

“People love to share their knowledge – asking for advice demonstrates humility, your ability to listen and be open minded,” Brent says. “It’s more important to be an attentive listener who comes across as authentic and trustworthy rather than someone who speaks candidly or excessively about themselves or their business. True listeners are rare, and people will remember you for this.”

Don’t try to meet everyone

There’s a misconception that you need to get around and meet as many people as possible at a networking event, but that’s not actually the best way to get the most out of it.

Networking educator at Your Time Matters, Kerryn Powell, says “Not everyone you meet will be a good match for you, so rather than running around trying to meet everyone, focus on getting to know a few people well,” Powell says. “You’re better off taking some time to have a conversation with one person than trying to get around everyone in the room.”

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