Networking for SMEs- does it really produce business growth?

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People can often be nervous or cynical about networking. There is the fear of presenting your business in front of other people and talking in public coupled with the feeling that this doesn’t lead to sales. However, it is important to look at what networking is and how to get the best results.

Different types

There are a wide range of networking events. A quick search in your local area will result in networking events for local businesses, young business people, events aimed at women, technology focused businesses and so forth.

And this is where you need to be discerning- the right event will give you the social group you need. It is much easier to grow your business if you are comfortable and able to talk with the people within the group.

Added value

Networking is also beneficial in the sense of getting to know people and who they know. This in turn adds value to your business because you can find reliable suppliers and assistance- for example a company that can produce an excellent website will give you the increased audience needed to get more sales, while effective e-commerce means those customers are less likely to get frustrated and go to a different website.

Long term

Different networking events have different rules regarding how business is conducted- some will expect you to get a minimum amount of leads and introductions while others are more informal and are more about developing relationships within the group.

However, the important thing is to know how to network- people sometimes make the mistake of expecting a big sale or connection on their first visit. In reality networking is something that takes time. It is about learning other people’s businesses, reaching out to them and helping them as much as it is promoting your own business.

It is also worth noting that networking is not necessarily restricted to meetings- there are often events and social occasions that spin off from them, giving you more chances to develop those relationships and increase your opportunities.

How to choose a group

When choosing a group, you have to consider what works for you- are you more comfortable networking in the morning, afternoon or evening? Do you want to pitch your business yourself or have someone read the words for you? What is your budget?

This is important because the best chance of achieving growth from a network group is to consider what you are personally comfortable with and who you are willing to dedicate time to. However, don’t attend one meeting and then quit- ideally you should give them at least a month to gauge whether or not it works for you.

In short business growth can come from networking. But it is important to look at the full package in terms of the value a group offers. While over time it will result in more sales, the additional benefits in terms of better relationships with suppliers and other businesses can be invaluable.