Following on from business blog number 5 about self belief I thought I'd add a few tips on Networking as blog number 6, the penultimate in this themed mini-series.
No man is an island as they say and this is true. We all have connections to someone or somewhere and when you're setting up or running a small business you need those connections just as much as large corporations need them, perhaps in some ways even more.
Working for your self and by yourself can be very isolating. Some people are fortunate enough to have the support and interest of their family and friends but as we read in the last businesss blog post, for some even the very closest of people to them are not supportive or helpful in terms of getting their business off the ground. Sometimes it's not practical help that we need but just someone to sound our ideas off on or to show an interest, although practical help is always good, even if it's someone dropping you in a sandwich and a cuppa when you're knee deep in work. That can be so appreciated if you've not seen the outside of your workshop for the best part of a day.
As a lone worker or sole trader and a new business there are steps you can take to build a network of support and value around you. That support may be from other businesses, suppliers you use, other small business owners, other crafters if we're thinking of craft and hand made businesses here, professional and government organisations with expert knowledge and advice, local venues which you may hire or hold events at, local community groups, online groups and forums as well as from individuals who may be customers or become customers or who may lead you to customers to name just some of the avenues open to you.
A good place to start looking is on Facebook. Local craft groups and online support groups or sharing groups are often listed there. Search, sign up and get involved. Also consider joining national and international groups they can be very valuable too in terms of support. The world is a small place and a new small business owner in Australia may well be experiencing the same problems you are or may have some valuable advice when you're working late at night which just keeps you going.
Find out if your area has a business hive or hub or a small business or enterprise centre which offers advice and support with everything from setting up a business to processing your own financial records. Go along to meetings and advice sessions and get involved, connect with other local business owners.
Find out if your local area has a shared office space. Lots of town and cities do have these now, a place where people can go sit, have a coffee and rent a space to park their laptop and work in the company of other self employed or lone workers. These facilities often offer small private offices too for meetings and larger rooms for larger meetings or demonstrations. Not only are they useful but they are places where you will meet other people in the same situation as yourself and maybe potential customers. Other small business owners even if in a totally different business may be useful in passing on contacts for good accountants or a good business phone deal or you may meet a budding web designer or product photographer who you can strike up a deal with.
Follow your suppliers on social media and build a rapport with them. Comment when you're happy with services or products, recommend them, review them. It all helps to build a relationship and for you and your business to become a reality not just a customer number and this can lead to offers and rewards and a good supportive, valuable addition to your business network.
Have a blog and follow blogs of other small business owners or people in your line of work, comment and join in challenges and hops and widen your networks that way. The blogging community is quite supportive and generally more positive then most other social media I find so get involved.
Check out apps which show what is going on in your area like Nextdoor or Meet Up and go along to events or start you own group and host events. Check out your local community centre and church hall for really low cost rooms and hire them for workshops advertised locally or host your own craft fayre. Partner with a local charity to raise money for them or to donate products for fund raising. .
Use social media it gives you added reach to your network - I won't go on about this here as I've covered it in a previous post but do set up accounts for your business. Also meet up with your social media connections if possible (do so safely of course) but get together in real life with those you make connections with it can deepen the bonds and tighten your networks.
Offer excellent customer service, go the extra mile and make a good connection with your customers, they are a valuable part of your network not just as customers but for word of mouth recommendation and promotion of your business. Don't forget that in this connected world, word of mouth is no longer confined to just over the garden fence chat but to millions of people out there on the internet in global communities
I could go on but you should have the message by now. However I have saved the most important message until last... engage and participate and be active in your networks. It is not enough to join a group and sap it dry of ideas and never contribute. People notice if you take and don't give and when it comes to networking everyone wants to be able to take something. If everyone isn't contributing there are some who will have nothing to take and they will soon tire of helping and offering advice and supporting if there is never anything coming back. Networking is about mutual exchange so make sure you offer something to your networks by way of meaningful participation.
Join me again tomorrow for the final business blog where we look at getting started with setting up your own business.