Networking involves interacting with other like-minded people to share experiences, problems and insights. Networking creates an environment where businesses can forge relationships that can lead to new business opportunities or partnerships for new ventures.
Types of business networks
When you network for business purposes you will have the opportunity to do some of the following:
- meet in organised or informal networking forums
- learn and share business experiences - learn how similar professionals or businesses have overcome challenges you are facing or may face in the future or you may share your business experiences
- make contact with potential customers or suppliers
- receive business news, local updates and invitations to business events, eg conferences, seminars, workshops, exhibitions, lectures by prominent business people or industry experts
- participate in debates on topics relevant to your industry or field of business
- contribute to or participate in surveys or research in your field or business sector
Sharing of ideas through business networks
Through networking you stand to gain from the experiences of other businesses and share new ideas on a variety of subjects including:
- training and recruitment
- talent management
- new products and market opportunities
- industry developments
- industry laws and regulation
You may meet customers, competitors, suppliers and service providers who are all looking for similar benefits and to widen their contact base.
Choosing a business network
When choosing a business network or partnership to join, you need to think of your primary requirements, eg market information, training and development opportunities, or expert advice. Aim to balance your needs with the level of participation and involvement you are prepared to commit to the business network.
For example, if you cannot spare the time to attend networking functions and events, you might focus on finding a network hosted online. Similarly, if you do not think you will proactively pass information on or help someone else in return for advice, you might prefer a more passive network that supplies newsletters and bulletins (possibly for a subscription) and hosts online debates, rather than an events-based one.
Actively participate in a business network
A network's strength in any particular area or service depends on how actively its partners exchange information with each other and reciprocate. For example, if you receive advice from a network partner, be prepared to offer your own help in the future.
Partners who are willing to pass on skills to each other will establish the network as a centre of excellence or expertise and facilitate future collaborations. If you have been pleased with a particular supplier, training provider or consultant, let your partners know why or arrange for them to give a presentation of their services.
A well-run business network will thrive if its participants play an active role in keeping the network topical and relevant. If you have experienced the benefits of a network consider whether you have any other contacts who could benefit from joining - talk to other businesses about what you have gained and introduce them to the network.