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Business networking – what do entrepreneurs think?

We asked some business owners for their views

Networking, both face-to-face and online, can be hugely beneficial for entrepreneurs and their companies. They are a great way to meet potential business partners and clients, as well as finding new talent for your team. We asked some successful entrepreneurs what they thought about the value of networking and how it has helped their business ventures:

Julie Meyer – founder and CEO of Ariadne Capital and BBC online Dragon: “Networking events and online networking are a crucial tool in every entrepreneur’s quest to scale their business quickly. The more people you meet and talk to about the business, the faster you will get feedback to hone your proposition, meet potential investors and reach customers, both directly and through word of mouth. It’s also a great way to find new talent to build your team. Online networking is an incredibly powerful platform when it’s used in the right way so that it accelerates the real world reach of your business rather than becoming something that absorbs a lot of time for little return. That’s why it’s important to figure out which bits are relevant to you and do those brilliantly while ignoring the other channels that won’t work nearly as well for your audiences.”

Lara Morgan – founder of Pacific Direct and Company Shortcuts: “Networking is a system of give and get. You need to put in as much effort as others who value that system if you want any sort of payback – in short you have to be giving. It is vital if you are going to network effectively that you run some kind of management system for the information you gather and contacts you make. You need to make sure you follow up. The long term gains depend on the time and effort you dedicate to this potentially highly-valuable process.”

James Davis – founder Upad: “I’ve found networking to be invaluable; whilst entrepreneurs should be selective and operate ‘smartly’ at events – use your time to be introduced to as many individuals as possible, then follow up the next day by email rather than limiting yourself to two in-depth conversations at the event – they can be a fantastic way to meet new business partners and opening the door to new opportunities.”

Nadim Saad – co-founder Financeacar.co.uk: “Networking has been one of the most important things for our business. I met my business partner through networking, we found our outsourced development team at a networking event, as well as some of our investors via Seedcamp. We also found our offices through networking – basically not much done without it!”

Bradley Placks - managing director of MyResourcer.com: “Throughout my career networking has been very important. In the early 1990′s there were no online networking groups so it was even more important to meet people face-to-face, attend networking events and build really good relationships. I am on LinkedIn but I still do most of my networking in person because the opportunity in this situation to develop relationships and rapport with prospective clients is more beneficial. It enables you to understand that person better and their business and the result is greater customer satisfaction, which should never be underestimated.”

Beatrice Bartlay - managing director of 2B Interface: “Networking is essential when starting a new business as it allows business owners to learn more about their market and the people involved in their field. Launching a start-up is all about getting your company name or brand ‘out there’. Forming and sustaining business relationships is invaluable to any business. I would recommend talking to as many people as possible at these events and exchanging business cards with them. It is important that you maintain these relationships, even if they don’t seem relevant to your business at present, as they may be useful in the future.”

Jon Bradford – managing director of Springboard: “Business networking is a massively important element of business development particularly during their early and formative period. One of the major advantages for being a small business is the ability to deliver a personal service – and networking is a natural extension to this. Business networking creates a platform where you can demonstrate your passion for your product or service. Furthermore, business networking is an interactive experience that allows you to react to others around you – avoiding misunderstandings, identifying previous unrecognised opportunities and creating advocates who might help you going forward.”

Jamie Waller – managing director of JBW Group: “Networking is now an important part of building connections throughout the business environment. It is often a ‘slow burn’ process, and is more about developing the face-to-face relationship. There is a great variety of networking groups and opportunities from specific trade discussion panels to open regional business groups - it is very much up to an individuals’ preference. I have found networking an extremely useful tool since starting my business and have built many long lasting relationships.”

Ning Li – CEO of Made.com: “Networking has been a key force in the launch and development of Made.com. From the outset its creation and success has been driven by a network of some of the most successful European web entrepreneurs. Not only could they help us through investment and counsel, but also through their professional and online networks. Without meeting these individuals through a series of networking opportunities Made.com would not have been possible or at least it would have been much less ambitious.”

Bryony Thomas – founder of Clear Thought Consulting: “I set up my strategic marketing consultancy just over two years ago, and I’ve built it 100% on online and offline networking. In that time I’ve generated over £500k in business for us and our network of preferred suppliers through conversations that initiated in networking. And it’s an investment that keeps on paying back. In the last two weeks alone I’ve been contacted through LinkedIn by people I worked with years ago with high quality leads for my business.”

Julia Hobsbawm – chief executive of Editorial Intelligence: “Networking used to be sniffed at and thought to be a little bit uncool. Today people recognise that networking – meeting people face-to-face and exchanging ideas as well as business cards – greatly improves people’s chances at getting work. Online networking is of course all the rage, but making connections without directly connecting and seeing people’s body language and even their personal style is not nearly as rewarding in the long run. Tomorrow’s worker may or may not have a degree. But they will definitely need to have networking skills to make the most of every opportunity and every bit of information which comes their way.”

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