Making business connections

How to network effectively to create long-term partnerships, generate leads and find suppliers

Starting a business can be a lonely experience. The life of an entrepreneur is by its very nature somewhat isolated – the stresses and strains of making your venture succeed, often against the odds, are on your shoulders alone.

No wonder then that many business owners find infinite value in talking to others who have been through or are going through similar experiences.

The value of networking

The most effective way of finding these contacts is through networking. Many business owners are put off joining networking organisations or going to networking events for fear of being bombarded with sales pitches, or not finding like-minded people.

However, when approached correctly, networking provides the opportunity to swap advice with a peer group, and to give and receive support – which can lead to a greater understanding of the market, a fresh approach to problems and an improved sense of perspective. Of course, networking can also lead to new sales, leads, suppliers, and even hires.

But for most entrepreneurs, the most effective approach to networking doesn’t focus on attempting to get as many new sales as possible.

To get the most from networking events for example, the savvy entrepreneur will not try to push their agenda onto people, or waste their time, but rather seek out people with whom a longer-term relationship can be made, and with whom trust can be built over time.

Online platforms to help you network

Face-to-face networking can be extremely effective, but today any entrepreneur would be wise to invest in networking online too. The most well-known online networking tools are LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, although lots more exist.

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Researching which platforms will be most useful for your particular needs will pay dividends. Even online though, the focus should not be on selling.

Twitter for example is a great way of connecting with existing and potential customers, but should be used to build connections with them and initiate conversations – which can provide greater market insight – as well as build an online presence.

This does leave users open to criticism though, and criticism must be engaged with in order to maintain credibility. Online networking, particularly with consumers, also needs a significant investment of time.

It is also much easier to connect with a peer group online these days – there are plenty of online groups entrepreneurs can join to share advice and experience, even to find new hires. Both on- and offline, most entrepreneurs are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing networking organisations to join.

Again, the key is to know what you want to get out of such organisations and doing your research. It may be the case that different organisations will provide you with different but equally important benefits.

The introduction of Bizcrowd

One example is Bizcrowd, powered by NatWest. This new free-to-use online community connects entrepreneurs with other businesses, and exists specifically to ensure businesses can find the right contacts to fulfil their particular needs.

Many entrepreneurs struggle to find the supplier they need for a particular product or service, but by posting a ‘need’ on Bizcrowd, the details of what you require are shared with relevant suppliers who can then come directly to you with solutions.

Equally, it can be an easy way to find new business opportunities and grow a business  Рbusiness owners can sign up to receive email alerts of when firms require products or services relevant to their industry or area of expertise.

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