Social networks and commercial networking groups help many small business owners and representatives get some amazing benefits out of working together. Many people join a group (or groups) but don’t know what to expect or how to get the most from their efforts. When looking at prospective networking groups the focus appears to be getting referrals.
Some key examples are: '
BNI“Do you have the capacity for more business? Are you prepared to take on more? If you do then BNI may be for you. Take advantage of the world's best form of advertising... word-of-mouth!”
Whitehorse Business Group“Membership provides an inexpensive channel for you to expand your business contacts in the local area, and also promote your own goods and services through the Whitehorse Business Group.”
These groups are listed as examples, because they are popular networking groups, in fact they are very good at what they do, but they are focused on one potential outcome - REFERRALS, REFERRALS and more REFERRALS.
There is also an abundance of articles detailing how to get the best out of networking, which as you would expect involves dressing the part, having business cards and information at your finger tips and planning your potential conversations to get the most out of the opportunity.
We forget that there are many other key bonus’s that can be gained from getting together with other like minded (and some not so like minded) people.
Other examples of potential outcomes are:
• To share ideas and experiences and to learn about business practices
• Peer-to-peer networks to keep up with industry trends and regulatory issues and professional development. In addition, the networking body can represent the industry in any larger issues.
Most networking groups are structured to favour one or two of these outcomes. For example, the business facebook pages that many of us belong to (Yes ‘I am a business owner in Victoria’ members will recognise my name) is geared to share ideas and experiences. Facebook and other social media groups have taken a valuable step forward and evolved to encourage people to ask for help when they have problems. They say that a large proportion of innovation begins with a problem that needs solving.
In contrast, the Tax Practitioners Board recommends accredited bookkeepers belong to the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers and attend their networking events. These events aim to promote the professionalism in the industry, educate the members to the regulatory issues and consistency among participants. To be an expert in your field, this type of networking is necessary and I would recommend following best practices.
Therefore, we can look at our networking options in terms of what we want to get out of them and the variety of members within a group can lead to two very different outcomes.
Richard Branson once said the secret to building a successful business is to “Find something people want, and then do it better!” Doing it better requires innovation to make a product or service unique and more valuable and therefore worth the premium.
Small businesses have the advantage of having an existing market and customer base (hopefully). The ability to be more valuable to your customer and do it better is both an opportunity to be more profitable and to sell to your customers based on your points of differentiation. Your unique ability to do it better is what will help customers choose you over the opposition.
Innovation can come from many different sources, as identified by Sasha Gilberg (and many other business professionals) including applying lessons from other industries to your business. For example, a service business can learn from medical practices and access text message technology via an iPhone or iPad to confirm upcoming appointments. Small incremental changes in customer service like this can add significant value to your services. If you apply features and practices from other industries and market these features appropriately, your business can become a leader in your field.
The opportunities are endless, and the important point is........ Networking with other Business Professionals provides an opportunity for innovation and business leadership.
WHY NOT CREATE YOUR OWN LOCAL NETWORK OR JOIN AN EXISTING GROUP, AND EXPLORE THE POSSIBILITIES TO HELP LOCAL BUSINESSES AND YOUR OWN BUSINESS THRIVE IN THE COMMUNITY?