In fact, according to Virgin, 85% of people prefer face-to-face interactions as it builds stronger, more meaningful business relationships. And as the age-old saying goes, ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. So with this in mind, Dr Moneeb Awan, managing director of WorkMobile, a global technology services provider looks at what it takes to be a good networker and how important networking is to business growth.
The journey to setting up a new business is often an extremely busy and challenging one, with business owners having to juggle a mountain of tasks from the outset – from coming up with the business idea and choosing the company name, through to securing funding and laying down a robust business plan. In order to build a company from the ground up, entrepreneurs need to possess a wide variety of skills – in effect, they need to be a ‘jack of all trades’ whilst continuously developing knowledge and understanding in a range of areas, such as management and leadership, finance, HR, marketing, sales strategy, and business legislation. The list goes on.
But aside from their own skills, business owners also need to have additional resources behind them in order to support the growth of their business. These resources can fill the gaps in their own expertise and open them up to opportunities they may not have otherwise had access to, such as investment, contacts, expertise and business experience.
And this is where business networking plays an extremely vital role, done properly it will generate strong, valuable relationships within the business world, where networked leaders can share and gain valuable insight from each other, positively enabling the business journey.
So how do entrepreneurs become great networkers?
Communication is key
One of the main attributes of successful networking comes down to the business owner’s ability to connect with other people and how well they can sell themselves. Relationships and networks are built between like-minded people who can all offer something in a mutually beneficial way – whether this is investment, business leads, advice or simply just an ear to listen. The relationship is a two-way street, so when it comes to networking, business owners need to think about what they have to offer and then be able to put this across confidently when connecting with new people.
But it’s not just about being an asset to another person or business. Building rapport is massively important, and strong relationships are often built on trust and respect that has been earned on both sides. People are more likely to want to connect with other business owners who are approachable and they will keep in touch with those who show a real interest in what other people are about. This comes from displaying good conversational and communication skills, and actively asking questions to gain insight into other people’s goals, interests and needs. It remains as much today, in our fast paced tech-centric lifestyles, as it always has been that people do business with people they trust and regard- companies and contracts don’t make decisions, people do, successful entrepreneurs understand this and hear what people have to say.
Once a business owner starts to expand their network, they will be able to develop relationships with a variety of people, from different sectors and even different parts of the world, who will have a diverse set of skills and personalities to offer. And this is likely to encourage the network to grow even further, as these people will be able to introduce the business owner to their valuable contacts, contacts they might not otherwise have had the chance to meet and communicate with.
People need people
The most important aspect to remember about networking is the human element – networking is all about people building relationships with other people. As a race, we thrive on relationships with other people and the simple benefits of having friends in the business world should not be overlooked.
Of course, relationships take time to build, but once they’re in place, they are extremely valuable when it comes to providing support and easing some of the pressures that come with running a business. Having someone who has experienced similar problems or understands the specific challenges found in a certain sector means they can provide valuable insight and advice – perhaps they found a way to overcome the issue, or have the expertise to deal with a complicated situation. For instance, help with a potential cash flow crisis could be sought to navigate the bewildering array of finance lending and investment options from someone in the network who has personal experience. They will help address the problem and in so doing cut through potential lost time by introducing their relevant contacts. We can’t be an expert in everything, so if one person has skills and experiences that an acquaintance doesn’t, then why not share that expertise? It’s likely they’ll do the same in return. A few years ago, after WorkMobile® won BDO’s sponsored technology awards, the organisers introduced me to Roland Emmans, UK technology and sector leader at RBS. This led to personal introductions to his colleagues in Manchester, where we received a low cost technology loan to help us expand. Neil Bellamy, the bank’s head of technology, has since utilised our product in their business, and the relationship continues to thrive.
Networking is built on give and take – and givers usually gain. Put simply, it’s often the case that if someone goes out of their way to do something nice for another person, that person will naturally respond and return the favour. Therefore, when a business owner passes on a good lead or lends a hand to someone within their network, the recipient is likely to help that person out in return.
And if an entrepreneur spots that they’re not getting enough opportunities, it’s time to start building their network further. This can open a whole range of opportunities that they otherwise might not have had access to, including joint ventures, client leads, partnerships, investment opportunities, and other networking events. The key is to seize every opportunity that becomes available – who knows where it might lead? Every new contact is worth their weight in gold, because they may just present an opportunity that opens up plenty of new doors, or they’ll become a trusted connection that can be relied on in a time of need.
Business networking is an extremely important process when it comes to building a successful business, and is something that all entrepreneurs can get significant value from. It’s not for shrinking violets nor is it a case of just turning up at networking events and expecting the network to grow naturally – building strong relationships takes years and requires a quality of effort to nurture and develop. However, once these relationships have been established, they will provide valuable rewards. In entrepreneurial success the difference between what you know and who you know may very likely hold the key between success and ordinary.