Lots of people don’t network, because they don’t understand the point of it. But there are some excellent reasons to consider adding networking to your marketing mix:
Surrounding yourself with motivated people, such as in a networking group, is a tremendous way to move forwards in your own business. The energy and positive attitude is inspirational, and tremendously infectious.
You will also have a lot of people you can turn to for practical support. One lady I met recently at a networking event said she fervently wished she had joined a networking group when she first became self-employed, as she was completely out of her depth trying to set up and run every aspect of her business – all she wanted to do was bake cakes, but there was so much more to running a business than that. She became successful, but it was hard work. And now she had found herself in a roomful of people who could have designed her website, written her marketing copy, coached her, managed her finances, printed her leaflets, organised her office, and so on. Everything could have been so much easier if she had had all this help at the beginning.
Many networking groups have a regular programme of speakers. Sometimes these are drawn from the members themselves, giving an opportunity to find out more about that person’s business; sometimes the speakers are from outside the group, and speak on some practical aspect of running a business, or are motivational in some way. All these give an opportunity for learning, stimulating your mind and giving rise to ideas you can apply in your own business.
The majority of small business owners work on their own, often at home, and have little opportunity to socialise. Being with other people is vital for our mental welfare, as it stops us stagnating, getting too introverted, and rescues us from isolation and depression. In particular, being with other people who understand the challenges of self-employment is not only reassuring but also extremely motivating.
When it comes down to it, the main point of networking is referrals – getting the name of someone to contact with a view to buying your product or service. Some (but certainly not me) would say that all the rest is “fluff”. You are mingling with people who might buy from you; they know people who might buy from you; you might meet someone who supplies something you require; so you collect names to follow up later. Some of the larger networking groups are structured around the getting of referrals, with points awarded for “qualified” names, and with the entire local membership acting as your sales force. In others, this process happens on a far more informal basis, with the emphasis on building long-term relationships. But it is bound to happen at some level, purely because people talk to other people, and have a tendency to try to help solve problems by putting them in touch with someone who can help.