Love it or loathe it – should I embrace networking as a small business entrepreneur?

Wednesday November 7, 2018

Are you a natural born networker? Or does the thought of pressing flesh and handing out business cards make you cringe? In the digital era, a quick message on LinkedIn or an email containing a business proposition might be seen as networking, but does it really replace the power of face to face?

In this blog, we discuss just how relevant networking is to the modern-day SME owner.


"There is no substitute for connecting with somebody in person"

The age of ‘clickability’

Clicks have become so important to the fortunes of the 21st Century SME. It could be a click on a video which explains a business idea; a click on a pay per click ad which leads directly to a sales page; or a click to confirm a connection on LinkedIn which leads to a new customer. Business has become about clicks, as companies focus their campaigns on the mix of digital technology, Google and content marketing.

It cannot be ignored that performing in the digital market place is now hugely important in order to develop a competitive edge in many sectors across the business landscape; both in the UK and across the world – but in some cases, has the shift to digital now gone too far? We might be missing a trick by ignoring some of the tried and trusted forms of traditional marketing.

Optimise your outreach

While your digital activities tick over with regularity, there is nothing wrong with trying more networking as part of a blend of both traditional and more online focused strategies. The opportunities to get out there and network are plentiful for the SME entrepreneur.

It could be an exhibition or conference at which many potential customers or suppliers are expected to attend, or a social event with a guest list containing some names which could be worth getting to know. Then there are the many occasions during every day life when you might ‘bump into’ someone with a synergistic profile in terms of their business – are you mentally prepared to take advantage of these scenarios by being ready to ‘talk shop’?

Using hospitality to build relationships

In the UK, the big corporates are still pouring millions into hospitality dates throughout the year, which can tell you all you need to know about the enduring ‘power of face to face’. Guests who could be existing or potential customers, as well as suppliers, are wined and dined at top sporting and cultural events – from the Wimbledon tennis championships to the Henley Royal Regatta, Premier League football and Royal Ascot races.

But rather than just doing it for the ‘jolly’, being able to host and entertain the contacts of your choice can make a lot of business sense, and aren’t just confined to corporates. You don’t need a gigantic box or private enclosure, as hospitality packages can be purchased in small numbers by SME owners, in order to entertain a small party. If you are concerned about the return on investment, consider the networking value in a day spent enjoying a shared experience with a business contact, and being able to build that relationship.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

While digital marketing may seem easier than forms of outreach which involve leaving the house or office, you are not using all the channels available to you if you are relying solely on digital means. As the key figure in a growing business, it is up to you to ensure that people know who you are, associate you with a certain brand, and think of you as more than just a name on a LinkedIn profile or contact form.

And remember, digital marketing can actually be an excellent way of backing up the work you have done ‘on the ground’ at networking events, giving you a means to methodically follow up with the contacts you have made. You might be amazed at just how much more effective your digital activities become when they have been preceded by some ‘grass roots’ networking which has done some of the hard yards. Conversely, your networking can be helped by past digital campaigns which have given exposure to your name or your business brand, meaning that people will be able to put a face to a name when you see them out and about.

In many ways, digital has allowed us to do things quicker and more effectively, but there is still no substitute for connecting with somebody in person. So what’s the answer? Try and aim for the perfect blend of both, and be sure to grab those networking opportunities when they arise. A multi-channel approach really can work wonders.

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