Networking is a key part of working life worldwide – research shows 90% of Arab entrepreneurs believe connections are important to their businesses, a figure that reaches almost 100% in China. For sole proprietors and small businesses trying to stand out in a crowded marketplace, drawing on those personal connections is especially profitable, with almost 20% of SMEs gaining half their new customers through online networking alone.
We’re all familiar with the saying, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” But there’s more to the story than that.
It’s not just about meeting people
Successful networking isn’t just about building connections and meeting new people. It’s about maintaining those connections and, more importantly, making them work for you. A connection that doesn’t add value is not beneficial to your business.
For entrepreneurs who have started out on their own, networking provides a key sounding board to test your ideas and gather new perspectives. A Regus survey shows that more than 62% of businesses globally believe that interaction with other professionals is key to keeping their skills up to date.
It’s also a central part of building your brand. For sole proprietors, being able to present an authoritative image is essential to winning client trust when competing with much larger, more established companies. This means that it’s not just learning from others that’s important in networking. Just as important is sharing your own skills and knowledge and building yourself a trusted position among your peers.
The bigger, the better
Sometimes even maintaining and leveraging your connections isn’t quite enough – particularly if your network is small. Wherever your sales go, so too should your networking – and beyond. Flexible working allows many entrepreneurs to join projects around the globe, so it’s just as important to cultivate contacts abroad through the use of social media such as LinkedIn or Twitter. As long as you’re successfully keeping up your contacts, a wider network gives you easy access to more shared experience and inroads into new professional groups.