It’s no secret leading a business can be daunting, which is why I’ve never understood those who choose to go it alone. For small businesses in particular, networking is a crucial component for growth and a necessity for aspiring directors hoping to become great leaders. In fact, according to HubSpot, 95% of people say face-to-face meetings are essential to building long-term business relationships. Skilful networking can drive further business success and open doors but only if you’re willing to take the next step. If you’re a small-business owner here’s why you should network now more than ever.
You don’t know what you don’t know
From experience I’ve found that leaders in small businesses – more so than in larger organisations – tend to fall victim to believing they know everything there is to know about the business. After all, in many cases, the company is their brainchild. However, leadership tunnel vision is often void of fresh and new perspectives, which lead to these leaders missing out on new ideas and improvements on existing practices. This is dangerous territory for any entrepreneur.
At Vistage, the peer advisory group network, we advocate and encourage our members to go out of their comfort zone and network with their peers. A safe place where your questions can be answered and, perhaps most importantly, have your answers questioned. Organisations like ours can act as a sort of idea incubator for half-baked thinking where founders can discuss the challenges, issues and opportunities they face. It’s a safe place where their ideas and thinking can be challenged and tested to discover better business outcomes. Additionally, networking gives you a greater depth of ideas and ways of thinking that can be applied to your business.
Whether you’re coaching or being coached, you become more self-aware and conscious of others’ perspectives and situations. Being able to connect with people in your network regularly in a familiar setting will allow you to grow your influence and improve your ability to lead your team. In turn, this will contribute to the growth of your business and better fortify it against crises, as and when they come. A broader network makes SME leaders more accountable for their actions, as they have a small cohort of like-minded individuals interested in their wellbeing and success which helps push them towards becoming greater leaders.
A word of warning
Small businesses often try to do too much too soon with little return. Your time is valuable, so you need to learn to allocate that precious resource accordingly. Networking should not be treated any differently to other business functions. So, do your homework and build a strategy that will help keep you on track to ensure you make the most out of the investment, which in this case is time and energy. Classifying your connections in a tiered approach – ranking your contacts in order of quality of the relationship is a good place to start. Ultimately, this will help identify how much time and energy you should invest in maintaining the relationship, allowing room for you to continue to focus on core business objectives.
Networking strategies should consist of targeting those who are open to having conversations and learning from each other as part of a value exchange. If small business owners become more strategic and focused on who it is they want to meet, and ask the right questions of their connections, then they are far more likely to get in front of the right people.
It’s vital to recognise that networking is not just about who you know, but who your contacts might know. To make the most of your network, remember to ask the right questions of the right people, as their referrals could potentially make the difference.
Remember, at the end of the day people do business with people they know and are comfortable with. Most businesses are people led so success is mostly, if not always, relationship driven.