The benefits of networking are not only underestimated by professionals, but often they’re avoided completely.
Maybe not on purpose, but so many worthy professionals are missing out on countless business benefits – whether than be down to a lack of time, confidence or knowledge.
So, why did you click on this post? Perhaps you’re not entirely convinced yourself. Maybe you think networking is outdated, old-fashioned. Or maybe you think you might be able to get away with avoiding networking completely. We have LinkedIn, Twitter, and a ‘Contact Us’ page on our website. Why bother wasting all that time?
Look, it’s common for business owners to spend so much time working in the business rather than on the business. We’re all guilty of it. But this is where we lose sight of things, and business can start to suffer.
Getting out and networking with potential clients and contacts is essential for business to help you identify potential opportunities that will help you move forward in your industry, collaborate with knowledgeable partners and build your industry awareness.
So if networking is something you prefer to shy away from, this post is for you. Save it, print it, revisit it, highlight areas that are important to you.
It’s a biggie, but we’ve tried to lay out everything you need in this post to get you networking savvy, confident and prepared. And yes, you might actually enjoy it!
What is business networking?
But what does business networking actually involve?
Business networking is the act of establishing mutually beneficial connections with helpful contacts in your local area or industry. The goal is to build a strong network of contacts that can help you increase visibility, knowledge and sales as a part of your business promotion and exposure strategies.
These might take place at a local (or international venue), and feature guest speakers, or perhaps a workshop including presentations from subject matter experts.
Or they may follow a more informal format, centred around food and drink, with a friendly and more causal environment.
Enabling you to connect with like-minded individuals in your vicinity, maximise exposure and access a pool of local knowledge, suppliers and even talent, the benefits of networking will be immediately apparent. You just have to take the plunge.
Where do I start?
If you’re new to networking, you might not yet be aware of any networking bodies in your local area. Of course, you can venture further that your post code – networking events take place across the world and depending on your industry, you can reap the benefits of attending international events, exhibitions and awards ceremonies. But for the sake of this post – and for the reluctant beginners out there. Let’s keep it close to home.
Quite often, local businesses will host their own events. But a good place to start will be with a larger networking body to help you make those initial connections. A local Chamber of Commerce is a great place to start. We have an entire section below on the benefits of joining a local Chamber of Commerce – but one of their main contributions to the business community is a consistent stream of high-quality networking events for both members and non-members. Yep that’s right – you don’t even have to become a member to participate!
They host a range of large, small, formal and informal events, so maybe start with something small and informal to begin with – such as a coffee morning. One quick browse of their events page will reveal a myriad of local events ranging from training workshops to social get togethers.
Next, think about your industry. If you specialise in photography for example, begin your search with your niche. Photography exhibitions, events, shows, or creative fairs would be great for you.
Think outside the box and start researching around your industry. Attend as many as you can within these first few months so you can get a feel for what is worth your time and what isn’t. It might feel like a waste of time at first, but the more familiar you become with certain events and people (and the more familiar they become with you), things will start clicking into place.
Potential customers, suppliers, and even investors will come to recognise you and inform your networking strategy further. From there, you can attend less frequently, but more valuable events and each will be selected deliberately with the purpose of bolstering your own network.
What are the benefits of working with a local business?
Firstly, let’s think about the benefits of working with local businesses.
Working with an expert who is aware of the local area can help you to identify local customers and markets, which is vital for any start up or SME.
Investing a portion of your time in local networking activities, and encouraging your wider team to do the same, will bolster your business strategy as you start to familiarise yourself with local markets, obtain greater local support access local opportunities and information.
It’s incredibly important to focus on promoting your business locally as it gives you an improved standing in the community. This can be achieved through networking. We’ll explain how in this post and suggest some local (Bedfordshire-based) networking events that we think could be a good starting point.
What are the benefits of networking?
So far we’ve spoken a lot about how networking brings about a whole range of benefits. But what are they exactly?
You’ll identify local businesses
Why? One of the biggest benefits of working with a local business is the ability to build stronger and more personal relationships. A great professional partnership is the prerequisite to more successful business results, regardless of your objectives.
You’ll identify local opportunities
Attending local networking events will place you face-to-face with local professionals, many of whom could have additional knowledge of opportunities within your locality including local funding, local customers, or local talent, for example.
Local opportunities – whether you live in the big city, or a smaller suburban area – are there. Laying the foundations for your local network is one way to start identifying them.
It’ll increase your confidence
Yes, confidence plays a major factor in the likelihood of you attending said events, but as with anything, practice makes perfect. Once you make networking a non-negotiable part of your strategy and begin attending events regularly, you’ll increase your confidence and find it easier to start facilitating connections with other businesses. Plus, you’ll start to notice familiar faces, making the entire process more enjoyable and far less daunting.
And remember, networking events don’t always take place in large conference halls where everyone is dressed in suits. Today, there’s something for everyone, with a range of informal, light-hearted events to choose from. We’ll suggest some towards the end of this article.
Besides extracting knowledge from other experts and professionals, you might identify opportunities to help other professionals. If you are a marketing professional yourself, many other business owners could call on you for help and advice. If you can offer your services altruistically, it will (ironically) swing back in your favour. Just think about how you can help others as much as how others can help you. It’s not always about what you can take, but what you can give.
Build longstanding professional relationships
And of course, networking enables you to identify and make connections with other parties – many of which could facilitate new connections in other sectors – sectors which might not otherwise be as easily accessible to you.
Regularly attending events means you increase your business’ exposure, and regularly communicate with potential clients and business partners. This raises your business profile and keeps you at the forefront of others’ minds.
Stay in the know
Attending events regularly means you are more likely to stay in touch with fresh knowledge and trends. Networking events will often feature presentations or follow a theme for knowledge-sharing, so you can stay one step ahead of competitors by learning more and implementing this fresh knowledge.
Once you begin to build on your reputation and become recognised with the community, more authoritative and respected members of the business community start talking about your business in a positive light, recommending and praising your services.
During any business trajectory, there inevitably comes a time where you’ll require some expert advice, or a source of local talent or funding. With a wide network of trusted professionals and experts, you’ll have no trouble in finding that.
What are the different types of networking events?
Speed networking events
‘Speed networking’ earned its name due to its similarity to ‘speed dating’. But don’t panic, this is solely professional. Attendees are set a specific amount of time to introduce themselves and exchange brief contact details with the rest of the group. Everyone gets an opportunity to meet, greet and connect. And no need to worry about any ‘awkwardness’ – great for first timers.
Industry specific events will be promoted within your industry community. The event format will likely be based around a topic or trend within your industry, and aim to educate, inform and connect attendees with others who can propel their business toward the right markets and stay relevant.
Presentations tend to be larger in order to compensate for the time or input of an industry professional. The speaker may be a subject matter expert and talk about a topic pertaining to either your industry, or a shared business challenge. The events attract those wishing to learn and expand their knowledge while making valuable connections.
Coffee mornings and luncheons
Coffee mornings and luncheons are usually held locally and take a much more relaxed and informal format. Smaller groups make it easier to work the room and they are usually less intimidating than bigger scale events. Another great one for beginners.
Dinner and awards ceremonies
While these are not exactly dressed as networking events, these evenings tend to be excellent opportunities to work your networking magic. There will usually be a seating plan for dinner, along with lots of alcohol (maybe not too much!) which can get you meeting people you might not usually get the opportunity to.
Local business networking events in Bedford
Whether you’re new to networking or you’re a seasoned attendee, here’s a roundup of Bedfordshire networking events we think could be of great value to local businesses.
The Marketing meetup
The Marketing Meetup takes place every second Wednesday of the month at Bedford Heights (also home of Nettonic – come and say hi!) giving opportunity for anyone attending to learn from marketing professionals in the Bedfordshire area, connect with and even contribute by sponsoring or presenting at the events themselves.
Meet the Neighbours
Meet the Neighbours is a networking event run by the Bedford Chamber of Commerce. The event is open to all within surrounding areas including Milton Keynes, Northampton and Luton. The aim is to connect Bedfordshire businesses with business in surrounding areas and expand our pools of knowledge and support.
#FSB Connect Bedford
FSB Connect events take place every second Friday of the month from 7am to 9am and include a full English breakfast. If time isn’t on your side, get your networking done before you’ve even had to set foot in the office.
Connect over Coffee
Connect over Coffee is another Bedford Chamber of Commerce event, often run at a prime location within Bedfordshire (previous venues have included Jordan’s Mill and the Park Inn). The event is informal and casual, so great for beginners. No pressure here, simply enjoy a coffee with like-minded individuals in a local setting.
Ensuring your people, your brand presence and your business’ name become more and more familiar at local networking events is a sure-fire way to propel your business into the local spotlight. If you can be consistent with your efforts, you’ll notice opportunities beginning to present themselves as you attend more frequently, and other networkers become familiar with our name.
Networking helps to build your reputation while nurturing partnerships and professional relationships with others. Business success leans on the support of a local community, and networking can help you to improve that standing and recognition within your locality.
Joining your local Chamber of Commerce
What is a Chamber of Commerce?
The British Chambers of Commerce is national representative body of 52 accredited Chambers across the UK, including Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce. But why join your local Chamber of Commerce? Can’t you just source events and contacts for yourself? Well you could, but do you have the time, the knowledge and the resources?
A Chamber of Commerce is a local organisation which functions specifically in the interest of the local business community. The Chamber work to develop the community economically and culturally offering export guidance and support, organising and hosting a stream of networking events, and facilitating mutually beneficial connections between members.
The Chamber also act as a spokesperson for local businesses, presenting problematic issues to parliament and lobbying on behalf of their members. In other words, the Chamber exists to elevate its local business members. They can put you in touch with the right people, businesses and offer authoritative guidance on a range of issues. For a reasonable annual fee, a Chamber memberships brings about an abundance of benefits.
Hopefully, this post has provided some insight into the world of networking and given you a starting point in order to begin your journey. The hardest part will be taking that first step, especially if it’s something you’re not entirely comfortable with. But once you start to notice the benefits, you’ll want to keep that momentum going.
If you have any further questions you’d like answering, please feel free to get in touch with us and we’d be happy to help with your strategy.