As the saying goes, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, which is why networking is such a powerful tool for business owners and executives to leverage.
According to data from Oxford Economics, it’s one of the most important ways to find and keep customers, particularly given that 75% of customers either require or prefer in-person meetings. In fact, the close rate for meetings is 40%, meaning that in-person meanings end in a sale or deal almost half of the time. A refusal to network with customers can also affect business profits. Executives revealed to Oxford Economics that they’d lose 28% of their business if they stopped networking.
Effective networking can expose you to new business opportunities, collaborations, and partnerships that might not have otherwise been possible. It can also lead to valuable referrals, helping businesses grow their customer bases and expand their market reach. As we’ve all experienced, people do business with people, not companies, and so meeting other business owners, suppliers and potential clients can be extremely valuable.
There are additional benefits to networking as well. For example, by connecting with other business owners and industry professionals, you can stay updated on industry trends, best practices, and new innovations. Plus, you’ll be sharing your experiences. This shared knowledge can prove invaluable when making decisions or overcoming challenges in your respective businesses.
Networking is also a great way to build a reputation. It increases your visibility and credibility within your industry and showcases your expertise and professionalism.
Finally, and this is a benefit we cannot stress enough, entrepreneurship can be a lonely and emotionally challenging journey. Networking can provide much-needed support from individuals who know exactly what you are going through. Connecting with like-minded individuals who have faced similar challenges can help you to not only navigate difficult times, but to stay motivated too.
There are many ways to network and meet other entrepreneurs. Here are a few tried and tested techniques that you can explore.
Attend events. There are many entrepreneurial events across South Africa. These are hosted by businesses, entrepreneurial organisations, and even local chambers of commerce.
Join an organisation. There are many entrepreneurial organisations that welcome new members. These groups thrive on active members and encourage interaction and engagement. You’ll meet like-minded individuals who share similar challenges. It’s worth investigating your local chamber of commerce as well. Some are more active than others, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find a great chapter to join.
Find an online community. Not all networking needs to be done in person. There are many online communities, forums, and social media groups that you can join where you’ll connect with like-minded individuals and potentially find business partners, mentors, or customers. In South Africa, business owners are still very active on Facebook, and LinkedIn is always an excellent place to connect with other entrepreneurs in your industry. You can join LinkedIn groups and participate in discussions, as well as reach out to individuals who you think would be valuable connections.
Sign up for webinars. A webinar may not always be as effective as in-person events, but you’ll always learn something valuable from a great webinar, which you can use to further your networking endeavours. Private equity and seed-fund investors always say that they expect entrepreneurs to learn about them and their funds before being approached and that almost every investment they make is ultimately the result of a relationship that is built over time. Take a page from the same book – webinars let you know what’s happening in various industries, who the experts are and who you should be focusing on building a connection with.
Referrals. Referrals are also powerful way to connect with other entrepreneurs. Reach out to people you know and ask for introductions to people they know who may be able to help you or who share similar interests. If you join a networking group or your local chamber of commerce, you can also ask your fellow members for referrals – just remember to do the same for them.
If we’ve convinced you to get out there and start networking, keep these tips top of mind.
Networking is a valuable tool in your entrepreneurial playbook that helps you build a better business through connections, knowledge and giving back to your entrepreneurial community.