Years ago my Dad told me that the key to success is not what you know, but who you know. I was quite peeved by that thought, because I was working hard at school to know things, and I didn’t know that many people. Plus, as a natural introvert, I didn’t feel overly enthused to go out and start introducing myself.
I soon figured out that he was right, of course, but I didn’t know how right until I started networking at the head of my own small business; and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done for it.
I’ve been going to SJPoole Network – and more recently, Busy Women Networking – for over a year now (read about my first experience – Networking for the Petrified Introvert – here). I have had by far the biggest number of new clients from people I have met at them.
Fair enough, you may say – when your business is to provide services to other businesses, it makes sense to go to a roomful of people who may want to buy from you. But it’s not so obvious what you’d get out of attending local networking if you sell to the wider consumer market – especially if you’ve never tried it before.
I’ve spoken to a few people recently who are thinking about starting their own business, and who are understandably astonished when I suggest that local networking might be a good idea for them too.
So if you’re thinking about going, or know someone who is: this is what I believe to be the magic of networking. You honestly won’t find all of these things anywhere else, in one morning, in one place – you get return on your time in the short, medium and long term too.
Immediate benefit – Masterclasses
Networking sessions usually have a focus topic, with an expert there to speak on the subject and then share expertise more informally afterwards. The topics have ranged widely but are always relevant to running your own small business, whatever it may be: social media masterclasses, mass email distribution list management, bullet journaling and organising, marketing and sales, blogging, personal wealth management, personal reconnection and development – every session I go to teaches me new things, or gives me new ways of looking at things I’m already doing. Networking will teach you things you never knew you never knew.
Medium term benefit – experience from other small businesses
Everyone there is in the same boat, and some of them have been in it for many years. They’ve learned loads, and even if you don’t need to use each other’s services in an official capacity, you may find you meet someone who is more than happy to meet up and give you some pointers on a particular problem you’re grappling with, over a coffee.
Long term benefit – connections with other small businesses
This is where networking gets really magical for your business, and it can happen over a longer period of time – the connections you’ll make.
You may swap cards with someone on the day and they become an instant new client – which is brilliant, of course – short term magic at work again. But the real magic is in the slow burn of networking, and how building those relationships over time can bring you new customers and new business that you never expected.
You may not need them now, but you will remember the people you met face to face, who saw the same value you did in attending that meeting; and you are far more likely to consider contacting them first if you need what they provide, than you are to find someone cold on the internet. And the same will work for how others think of you. It’s much easier to trust someone you’ve met at a networking meeting, than someone you’ve looked up on Google.
This is the brilliance of networking. You and the other businesses in the meeting already have common ground – you prize this use of your time, so you already know that you share similar values as the other business owners there. You will be the one they think of for themselves, or to recommend to a friend. So you may find you get brand new clients being referred to you that you never saw coming, and in turn you will know a lot more local businesses to go to when you need something.
You can meet accountants, a web developers, marketing experts, law experts, virtual PAs, copywriters – but you will also find a host of other businesses too. There was a boiler expert, a nanny agency, and a wedding venue owner at the last one I went to, and I’ve met artists, a personal stylist, leadership coaches, telephony experts, first aiders, personal trainers…you name it, and I’ve met someone at networking who either does it, or knows someone who does.
The Milton Keynes networks I’ve experienced have such a collaborative, co-operative spirit. If you need to find another business to help you with something, there will either be someone in the meeting who can do it, or they will be able to refer you to someone they know and trust to deliver you a great service.
If you’re wondering whether to take the plunge, just go for it. It will be the best thing you do for your business short, medium and long term as well. Give me a shout if you’d like to go along together – it’s always easier with someone you know!