Welcome to the latest guide in the series of Networking Edinburgh Tips. As always, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world: you can take our advice about what works for networking events in Edinburgh and apply it to boost your small business network in 2020.
In this guide, we debate the pros and cons of online vs face-to-face networking for small businesses.
For small and medium enterprises, (SMEs) there is a perennial quest to strike the right balance between working and networking. We don’t have the luxury of sending our Marketing Executive to networking events.
Do or Don’t?
If you’re pressing the flesh, you’re not at your desk. But if you’re chained to your workplace, you’re not meeting new faces. Worse, your competitors might be making their presence known and charming all your potential customers. They might even be trying to lure your hard-earned existing loyal client base away!
A certain amount of networking is probably inevitable, then. Maybe your website already generates a proportion of sales, and perhaps walk-in customers, as passing trade or attracted by online or hard copy advertising, account for more.
The truth remains, however, that people buy from people. Whether you trade B2B or B2C, to expand your customer base, you need to build personal relationships. This starts off as simple as getting your face and name known.
Don’t: Go in with your hard-headed business persona. Save that for the later stages of heavy negotiations. Some soft skills are required first.
Business Networking vs Social Media
Face-to-Face: Do or Don’t?
Don’t: Think that you have to attend every networking event going.
Do: Decide how much time you can afford to invest in a month, then identify a select few events where you feel comfortable and where there is a chance that you will meet people relevant to your business. Admittedly, this means dipping your toes in a lot of events before you choose where to establish a presence. Try breakfast, lunch, coffee networking and evening affairs to meet more people. Check out the wide range of events on offer from Edinburgh Connections to get started.
Don’t: forget that networking is more like farming than hunting.
Do: Get to know people, seek to nurture personal relationships and business will follow. Remember to think about what you can do for the people you meet, rather than the reverse. Invest time (thoughtfully) and effort to build trust in you and your brand.
Chambers of Commerce
Sometimes considered the preserve of the older, golf-club, blazer-wearing sort, your local Chamber might nevertheless have something to offer. If you have an interest in influencing government policy pertaining to your sphere of business, for example, or maybe you like the idea of meeting politicians and captains of industry alongside your business networking, then your local Chamber of Commerce might be for you.
Maybe: Try Chambers of Commerce. They can usually help with things like export licences and international market access, although you should investigate what free assistance you could get from your Business Gateway branch first.
Of course, your networking does not all need to be face to face.
LinkedIn is the perfect forum to reach out to other businesses without ever leaving your desk.
Do: Establish yourself as an authority in your field with an article or two about topics in your areas of expertise. Alternatively, just follow a few thought leaders and comment pertinently from time to time to raise your profile in the industry. Even asking questions can be a good way to get your name out there.
Queries like: “Can anyone recommend good accounting software that complies with HMRC for Making Tax Digital?” will get everyone reaching for their keyboards to share their thoughts. Before long, you can have a thriving chat thread, with increasing numbers of people piling on as connections of connections are alerted to the conversation. Acknowledge everyone’s contribution and invite participants to connect with you. Now you’re raising your profile and building your online network.
Do: Try Facebook
It can be a highly effective medium for reaching out to consumers. Competitions, posts, or even just comments on each and every thread you come across that can be related to your business: they all help to get your name out there and build your brands: personal and business.
There is growing awareness that buying from small businesses benefits everybody in the medium to long term. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) runs effective, hard-hitting campaigns and even competitions to promote small businesses and encourage customers to shop local.
Maybe: You don’t need to join the FSB to take advantage of this trend, either. As SMEs we can all emphasise our local characteristics and tap into the growing consciousness that the national and international multiples contribute very little to society. The big boys have had it their way for too long.
Business Owners or Private Consumers?
Are you a B2B or B2C business?
Are your customers other business people or the general public?
Even if you sell to consumers you should not neglect the business opportunities that can come via referrals from other businesses. It’s worth repeating that people buy from people. Networking, whether online or face-to-face (ideally both), allows you to achieve more than advertising alone could ever do. As well as raising awareness of your brand, your products and your services, you can make friends, do some small favours and develop a reputation. The time will come when people will want to return those favours or just pass on your name because you’ve established trust. The time you invest will return dividends.