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Five reasons why networking works

Networking events can feel daunting for small business owners - but the benefits far outweigh any social awkwardness that you might feel towards them.

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There are many ways to meet and mingle with other SMEs

Anyone that’s started a business knows it’s a collaborative journey. One of the most important things in the early days is recognising your strengths and where you need the help of others to bring your vision to life.

Whether it's accounting, forecasting, product development, production, packaging, marketing, sales or choosing the music for the factory floor - you can’t do it all. 

And as the saying goes, if you’re a small business owner you should be working on your business, not in it.

Cue: SME expos! Each year there are many exhibitions and business events across the country. From the big expos like The Great British Business Show and the Evening Standard’s SME XPO to smaller-scale regional events like the Bristol Business Expo and the Teeside Expo

All of these events are united by one core objective - to bring small business owners together. To share insights, knowledge, and previous experience on issues that impact the small business community. 

To collaborate.

I attended my first expo last month, and I was struck by the number of opportunities available from a wide-ranging programme of talks, networking and investor 1:1’s. 

You can choose to attend as a visitor or as an exhibitor. If you’re exhibiting, you’ll have a booth and the chance to splash your business branding all over it. If you're a visitor, you'll get a lanyard. But however you choose to attend there’s ample opportunity to get your business the exposure and visibility it needs. Whether it’s chatting to attendees from your booth or distributing business cards to anyone that catches your eye. 

And it's not just visibility, it also gives your business lashings of credibility and validation. If it’s validation you’re looking for - and let’s face it, we all want that in the early days of starting a business - then get yourself along to an event. 

Now, enough of my expo excitement. Let’s now look at the five reasons why networking can elevate your business’ potential to a whole new level. 

1. Business growth to suit you both

Networking is a two-way thing. Whatever it is you’re looking for, the person you’re talking to will be looking for something too. You can relax in that knowledge - it means everyone’s in the same boat. 

As a result, networking can open the door to a range of collaborative opportunities. That might mean the chance to establish a new partnership with someone - the Simon to your Garfunkel, the Procter to your Gamble.

New collaborations can bring so many unique and unforeseen opportunities - and opportunity can lead to growth and increased revenue for your business. Even if you see yourself as a lone wolf in business, don’t underestimate the power of collaboration and partnerships - even if it’s just in one area of your business.

2. Sharing is caring

A major advantage of networking is getting the chance to hear how others succeeded and how they failed. 

Failure in business is thankfully not a guarantee, but making mistakes or wrong decisions pretty much is. So soaking up all the insights and advice from those who’ve been there and done that is worth so much. It probably won’t prevent you from making mistakes of your own, but it might help guide you away from making the same mistakes as others.

Many networking events usually include panel discussions too - and these are a great way to keep on top of changing industry trends and collective pain points. Plus, once you’ve listened to someone chat on stage, you’ve got something to spark up conversation about afterwards - either with the speaker themselves or with other attendees.

3. Funding resources and development courses

Many networking events will be attended by representatives from every corner of the SME landscape. From finance providers and accountants to local government and accredited course leaders - you can learn about and discover pretty much anything. 

But if you’re new to business, or you’re looking to grow, then a networking event can be a great place to centre your thinking and pull in thoughts and tips from this diverse group. 

If you’re looking to talk about finance options, seek out a better supplier deal, recruit new skilled talent or you want some mentorship - networking can help with these various business needs and challenges.

4. Now you see me

One of the hardest things in business is being seen. You might have tried subtle (or even shameless) self-promotion online - but it’s not the same as demonstrating your passion and talents in the flesh. 

Networking events give you the platform to talk about what makes your business, and you, special. That might be to prospective consumers, suppliers you want to engage with, distributors you want to sell through or finance providers you want cash from. 

Socialising with strangers can be a great idea for a day out for some. But for others, it can be as daunting as swimming with sharks without a cage. The great thing about these specific networking events is that everyone’s open to being approached and conversation and mingling is both encouraged and facilitated.

5. Advice and support that can’t be bought 

The final reason is perhaps the most obvious - but simply being in a room filled with likeminded people is incredibly inspiring and motivating.

Whether it’s hearing success stories or sparring ideas off a fellow small business owner - you’re bound to leave the event more energised than when you arrived. 

It allows you to widen your circle and build your network as you unpack the universal challenges that everyone must face when running a small business. Surround yourself with people that encourage and offer support - if nothing else, it’ll help you start to see the wood for the trees again. 

Running a business can feel lonely - but by networking, talking and exchanging ideas you can quickly realise you are not alone at all.

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About Kyle Eaton

Kyle is a finance editor specialising in all things related to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). He has over ten years' experience working in financial services and as a writer.

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