Following on from my previous blog about the importance of building a community for your independent shop this blog is all about networking. In order to build a community you first need a network.
A network is a group of people with a common interest, often formed to help each other. Networking – (often used to refer to meeting) a supportive group of individuals with a common interest.
Networking is historically something I’ve shied away from. It brings up visions of navy suits and business cards! However I’ve found that it’s an essential way to become aware of new opportunities. It helps to build your brand and can provide a way to find new customers. By networking you can find others to collaborate with and help to build a community.
In the last 2 years I’ve become a big fan of networking and some networking events! In Nottingham we are lucky to have several amazing regular networking groups. My favourites are Blue Stockings Society and Natter Business Network – I’ve also attended several other dull or dispiriting ones which I won’t go in to.
I joined the groups to meet other business owners and gain help, support and advice. I’ve been lucky enough to find all of this plus a sense of belonging and community. The knowledge within the networks is incredible and the new business opportunities are really just an added benefit.
Below are some of the benefits of joining a business network;
Referrals and increased business
Finding other businesses to collaborate with (more on this in my next blog)
Opportunities to help others
Good for mental health
I think I’ve encountered all the above benefits in the last two years since I started networking! The most important of which to me, are the friendships and support I’ve found within them. For example when my shop hit a funding issue (after being left high & dry by a builder) I was able to get invaluable help on crowdfunding from someone who’d been there before. Without her help I think we’d have struggled to run a successful Kickstarter campaign. As part of it, I used business contacts we’d made at several local charities to be able to offer free workshops for charities in return for people donating to our renovation campaign. I also received a lot of help pre-launch from people I’d met through the networks. Plus, as I was able to launch the campaign at a networking meeting and many of the attendees supported it both financially and by sharing the project with their networks.
Running a business can be lonely, whether you’re working from home or in a retail shop - even if you have employees. Sometimes even more so if you do; you can’t discuss difficult business decisions like cutting hours or making redundancies with your employees. By attending networking events or joining online networks you can meet other business owners that just get it. You have a community of similarly minded individuals that often share the same challenges and difficulties or have been there before. The support and advice they can give you is invaluable. You might feel a bit like rolling your eyes when people talk about their ‘ biz besties’ but having a group of other entrepreneurs that always have your back is incredible! They’re there to celebrate your successes and cheer you on as well as commiserate with you when things don’t go to plan.
I’m initially quite shy and socially awkward but now wouldn’t want to be without a few networking events lined up in my diary. Though I should probably add a slight disclaimer - even with the events I now love it’s taken me a while to feel comfortable at them. Sometimes I feel anxious about attending their monthly meet ups but I always feel better after making myself go!
Have you found a great business network? I’d love to hear about it, leave me a comment or send me a message.