About 6 years ago, I looked into how networking can help my business. I had just moved to a new town (Bacup). I didn’t know anyone. I was suffering from a back condition that meant I was in pain most of the time. I was trying to grow a business. My husband was working away for long hours. My son had started primary school and I hadn’t spoken to anyone other than the dog for quite some time.
I needed to get out and I needed to meet new people. I needed to start growing my business. I needed to build a community. So I went to a networking meeting.
Since then, my business has gone from strength to strength. Whilst the road hasn’t always been an easy one, we’ve now got a strong company that I’m immensely proud of. Business networking has been a huge part of that journey so, when people ask me (as they do often) ‘how can networking help my business?’, I tell them honestly that, done correctly, business networking can be one of the most powerful tools in your marketing arsenal.
In this blog post, I’m going to give you the five main ways business networking has helped me to grow a successful, award winning search marketing agency. Read on to find out more.
Why Do I Love Business Networking?
When I ventured out to my first Rossendale networking meeting, several years ago, I had few expectations other than to meet other local business owners. Growing my business was there, at the back of my mind, but it wasn’t my primary goal. Mainly, I just wanted to have a conversation with a grown up human, as opposed to a dog, cat or child.
I was nervous: I’d moved to a new town, I didn’t know anyone, I hadn’t left the house much in a few years and my self-confidence has taken a considerable knock.
I was also suffering from imposter syndrome. I presumed I would be walking into a room full of business professionals, who would immediately see through me. They would know that I didn’t know what I was doing; that I had no place there, amongst the high-flying business elite.
Yet what I actually found was a world away from that. The members of Valley at Work – the first free, Rossendale-based business networking meeting I attended – were warm and welcoming and accepted me at face value. In fact, they welcomed me in and encouraged me to take an active part in the meetings.
After I’d attended these informal monthly meetings for a short while, I met Tracy Heatley, who ran the Rossendale BoB Club. Tracy invited me to attend a Rossendale BoB Club as a visitor, and then invited me to become a member. It was a lot of money for me at the time, plus the early morning meetings would be a challenge given my back pain. I also had my son, who was a young child at primary school, to think of. But I decided I had nothing to lose, so I signed up for a year’s membership.
Within just a few weeks, I started to realise exactly how much networking can help win business. I’d made back the investment I initially put in. Within just a few months, I’d more than doubled my ROI. Within the year, I was working – in one way or another – with every single one of the 15 or so other businesses in the room.
Over the past 6 years, I have continued to invest in my business networking and I have continued to reap the rewards. I am now a member of at least 5 different networking groups across Rossendale (including, of course, my beloved and original Rossendale BoB Club) and my business continues to grow and see the benefits. For every £1 we put into networking, we make at least £3 back. Plus, there are all the additional and associated benefits that come from being in the middle of the local business community.
Five Ways Networking Has Helped My Business
But the benefits of business networking aren’t just monetary. Here are five of the main benefits I get from networking locally:
Business Networking Gives Me A Referral Network For My Business
Business networking is all about referral marketing. The entire reason we do it is so we can generate more referrals for our business.
If you do it correctly, then you will have an army of advocates for your business, because your fellow members will actively work to promote your business via word of mouth, which is the best recommendation your business can get.
What’s more, if you educate your fellow networking members correctly, they will not only source you one-off referrals, but will be able to introduce you to the type of clients that will become repeat referral partners.
For us at GrowTraffic, business networking has seen us receive referrals to work with the other businesses in the room directly, referrals to work with the clients and contacts of the other businesses in the room, and referrals to work with their partner agencies – such as web designers and marketers – who will refer their customers to us over and over again.
Business Networking Gives Me A Network Of Business Professionals I Can Work With
As an SME business owner, it’s likely you don’t have an in-house HR, legal, marketing, accounting etc. department, like the larger businesses do. This means that just asking a simple question or getting some further info can sometimes end up being a costly business.
However, as a member of a business networking community, you have access to a wide range of business professionals, who will be willing to help you out in times of need. Most of the time, your networking colleagues will be happy to answer the odd question or point you in the right direction with little or no charge.
If you do need to outsource certain services, then you have trusted professionals you can turn to. People with whom you’ve networked alongside for some time, so you already have a good working relationship with them. They get to know you and your business, and you know they will do their best for you.
For GrowTraffic, our accountant, HR consultant, IT, telecoms and hosting provider, recruitment and training advisor. Plus, many of our freelance copywriters and marketers have all come from our business networking communities. We have been able to form loyal and long-lasting relationships with our suppliers. Not only because we are their clients, but because we meet with them on a bi-weekly basis so become friends.
Business Networking Empowers Me To Learn New Skills
One of the main things I love about the networking meetings I attend is that they offer the opportunity to learn new skills, which I’m always keen to do. As a business owner, it’s crucial that I continue my personal and professional development, and stay abreast of the latest happenings in the business community.
All networking meetings have a ‘Ten Minute Presentation’ section, where a fellow member educates us about their business and the sector they work in. There is invariably something learned in every single one, even if the presentation is from a contributor you’ve heard from before.
Moreover, just the fact that you are meeting and conversing on a regular basis with business owners from all sectors and areas, and of all business types and sizes, means you will naturally expand your horizons and learn new things.
In my case, I have learned so much from the business owners I network with. For example, from a Virtual Assistant I network with, I learned that my business could have had GDPR weaknesses; something which we were easily able to rectify and which might have now saved us a small fortune and a lot of stress. From an HR Consultant I network with, I learned that there could have been gaps in our employee contracts. Again, something we were able to address and fix quickly. From a lawyer I network with, I learned about the dangers of not having the correct shareholder agreements in place. This was something we quickly remedied.
In short, as a business owner, you don’t know what you don’t know. By networking regularly with a wide range of business professionals, I am essentially ensuring my SME business can punch well above its weight, plus I’m continually learning whilst I do it.
Business Networking Has Raised My Profile In The Local Business Community
Not only has business networking enabled me to grow my business. It has also enabled me to become well known in the Rossendale business community. In fact, someone said to me recently, “I literally can’t move in Rossendale without bumping into you”!
If you want to succeed in business, you need to be visible. If you are constantly visible, people will immediately think of you when they need your product or service. You could have the most awesome business in the world, but if nobody has ever heard about you, then you’re not going to be able to make it pay the bills.
Through networking, I have made connections that have enabled GrowTraffic to become a trusted SEO agency used by local and county councils, NHS trusts, national housing associations and several UK wide charities. We have become known by local officials and business influencers, such as the Chamber of Commerce. We have attended and sponsored national award ceremonies alongside a Princess (honestly!), and appeared on local and national media outlets.
Personally, I have become the Chair of the local business association and my husband (and fellow Director) and I have become involved with several key council-led initiatives locally. We are even in the process of working with local agencies to create a business growth hub in an abandoned church.
And it has all come about through networking. Never underestimate the potential of meeting people for coffee.
Business Networking Has Given Me Friendship
And this leads me to probably the most important benefit of all; friendship.
Before I started networking, I didn’t know a single person in the area. Of course, I had friends, but having moved to the other side of the county, my friends sometimes seemed very far away. I didn’t know anyone in the town I lived in and, for a variety of reasons, didn’t get out much to meet new people.
Having now networked for 6 years in Rossendale, I have met hundreds of new people, and many of them have become genuine friends. A few of them, in fact, have become friends for life.
Over the last year of the Coronavirus pandemic, thanks to which I haven’t left the house more than a handful of times in over 12 months, my networking colleagues have become crucial to me. Through very tricky times and some real low points – such as losing almost two thirds of our clients overnight when the first lockdown was announced – my networking friends have been there, week-in week-out, to provide support, advice and occasionally, quite literally, a shoulder to cry on.
As business owners, one thing we all need around us is strong friendships. And business networking can provide that in spades.
But I’ve Tried Business Networking And It Didn’t Work For Me!
Oh, how many times have I heard this?!
I’ll be honest with you, business networking is not a quick fix, nor is it an instant route to success. It takes work. It also takes the correct attitude; as my friend always says, ‘if you turn up to a networking meeting just for the coffee, coffee is all you shall receive’. There’s so many more ways that networking can help your business.
If you really want business networking to work for your business, then you’re going to have to put in the effort. The 2 or so hours you spend in the weekly or fortnightly meetings are simply the tip of the iceberg.
The real work should take place during the rest of the week, and you should at least be doubling the time you invest in the actual meetings. This means having the 1-2-1 meetings with fellow members to nurture those relationships. It means updating your online profile. It means working on securing referrals for other members. You will also need to follow up on the referrals members have given to you. It’s best to focus on helping to promote and encourage your fellow business owners. It means generally putting in the effort to make sure you are making a valuable contribution to the group.
If you don’t do that, if you just expect that you will magically get referrals, if you turn up expecting to receive but not willing to give, then no, networking will not work for you.
But, if you do it right and put the effort in, then you shall see dividends, regardless of what business or sector you are in.
Want To Know How To Get Better At Business Networking?
Of course, being good at business networking is not a skill anyone is born with; it takes time and practice. But, the good news is that, if you do want to get batter at networking, help is at hand.
Whether you currently attend business networking meetings and don’t feel you’re getting anything much out of it, or you’ve tried it in the past and don’t feel it worked for you, the good news is you can still learn how to network better. Even if you think you’re an expert networker, there are always new networking skills you can learn to improve your effectiveness.
If you think there are areas of your business networking skillset that could do with some polishing, then I urge you to try Tracy Heatley’s Networking Ninja Online Video Course. Having done this course myself, I can thoroughly recommend it. As you can probably tell, I consider myself to be a fairly successful networker, yet I still learned some eye-opening things that have helped me ensure my networking efforts are even more impactful. This is how I know that networking can help your business.
Plus, it’s phenomenally reasonably priced, so what have you got to lose?
Do You Want To Try Networking To Grow Your Business?
And, after all that, if business networking sounds like the kind of thing you’d like to try for your business (and why wouldn’t you?!), then why not pop along as my guest to one of the meetings? It’s completely free and you can see whether or not you feel it’s for you, with absolutely no strings attached.
If you fancy it, you can contact me by phoning GrowTraffic on 0161 706 0012 or you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively, you can contact Tracy Heatley directly and she’ll get you booked straight on to the next appropriate BoB Club meeting. You won’t regret it.
About The Author
Hi, I’m Rachel Weinhold and I’m the MD of GrowTraffic, an award winning search marketing agency based in Lancashire and Yorkshire. I blog frequently about SEO, Search Marketing, Content Marketing and Social Media. When I’m not out networking, you will find me sharing my knowledge either through my online training courses or my Facebook Lives.
I love helping businesses take the mystery out of digital marketing and utilise all the tools at their fingertips to grow and thrive in this new digital age. If you’d like me to write a guest blog post for your website, feature on your podcast, be a keynote speaker at your event, or help with any other element of your content marketing strategy, then please do get in touch by email@example.com.