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Online networking is crucial to the future of small business growth

Online networking is crucial to the future of small business growth 1

By Trudy Simmons, business and clarity coach

We have all had to find a lot of new ways of being effective and efficient to continue to grow our businesses in this “new normal” we find ourselves in. As a business coach and organiser of networking events, I have watched businesses embrace some new ways of working and fight against others. Some businesses have claimed: “this won’t work” and said: “I will wait for things to get back to normal,” while others have jumped at the chance to embrace new practices in their working lives.

We must accept, we are where we are right now in this point in time, and business growth waits for no-one, so we must work with what we have, rather than waiting, wishing and wanting for what was.

It would seem that many smaller businesses have been able to adapt quickly. Across my networks, businesses have changed direction or launched new products or provided services to new markets, all while working from home, attending online meetings, speaking to clients and for some, dealing with home-schooling.

One of the ways I have seen smaller businesses change their practices, is in networking.

Networking with other businesses and potential clients is a pivotal part of having a small business. Before the pandemic lockdown, the typical networking activity would be face-to-face events or meetings. There was some networking on social media platforms, but this would tend to focus on transactional activity rather than a conversation.

However, that has completely changed and now networking includes being active in communities on many more social media platforms other than Facebook or LinkedIn as well holding events and conferences on platforms such as Zoom.

Very quickly, I changed all my in-person networking events, to being online, when lockdown took hold. Thankfully, I was already using the right software and already had an engaged audience that didn’t want to go back to feeling isolated. So, the change didn’t take much to achieve, however it took a lot to convince people that the experience of online networking would be as good.

Many were frustrated with not being able to go to a different location and many felt they would not receive the same empathy or support from people in an on-screen meeting as opposed to a face-to face meeting. This is understandable.

We have all had to make decisions in the last few months that we never thought we would need to, and this is a mental health decision, as much as a business decision.

Why do I say that?  In the networking that I arrange, we make sure to have fun whilst meeting old friends, new friends and talking about our businesses. Why is this an important part of where we are right now?  Most of us in small businesses are sat at home behind a computer working incredibly hard and it can feel isolating and like no one else understands. When you take yourself out of your comfort zone and meet new people, it is a safe environment to engage with people who want to hear from you.

The many benefits of online networking should not be ignored. Here are five reasons to shift and include online networking into your week or month.

  1. Meeting new people – in a room of people (in-person), we tend to gravitate towards people that we already know. In an online networking event you might meet people that you don’t know. This has been one of the biggest pieces of feedback that I have been hearing; that people are loving meeting people they may not have otherwise met. Networking is a chance to take yourself out of your comfort zone and meet and talk to new people in a safe environment.
  2. Business growth – time and location will often limit business owners from attending in-person networking events. There are hundreds of online networking events which will not take up as much time – you never know who will be there, or who they might know that needs your services or products. Turn up, show up and be ready to talk about what you do. This will lead to more opportunities for business growth.
  3. Mind expansion – one of the challenges of running your own business is becoming stuck in a rut or feeling directionless. This happens to us all at some point. Online networking can shift your mindset and help you to take that next step. Sometimes, it is someone else’s throw-away comment that can be just the thing that you need to hear.
  4. New relationships – building business relationships takes time, but networking allows you to start on an even playing field with other attendees and one step ahead of people who aren’t doing it. Use this starting point to build trust with new people.
  5. Why not? – With the current situation we all find ourselves in, why not give online networking a go? Businesses have very little to lose in trying it. There are so many opportunities to find a group that works for you. Take those opportunities, approach it with a growth mindset and a willingness to try something different and see what happens. As with anything, you get out what you put in – come prepared to talk and be heard.
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