In her fourth guest blog, Kim Bond, our Social Enterprise Coordinator, shares her top five reasons why networking matters to social entrepreneurs.
When you start your own business you are so caught up in everything you need to do – all the admin, marketing, sales and the passion and excitement about planning for the work you are going to do. But when it comes to getting customers, there’s one thing above everything that business owners need to think about. That thing is networking; getting out and talking to others about what it is you do. Here are my top 5 reasons networking is important.
Networking wins your business referrals.
It takes time, but even if you are at an event where you can’t win sales directly, you can tell someone what you do and give them your card. There’s a good chance your card and details might get passed on to someone who DOES need your product/service. Similarly, take someone’s card if they seem interesting to you. They may stay at the back of the contacts book, but connect with them on Social Media, and say ‘hi’ once in a while, you never know when they might come in useful – months, or years down the line.
Networking helps you refine your elevator pitch.
When someone says ‘So what do you do?’, you need to give them a clear answer of what your product or service is. Again, this takes time and you may end up blabbering the first few times you do it, but networking in different situations will help with this. An Elevator pitch is a term used to describe a pitch which lasts the time you would spend going say two floors up in a lift – which equals about 30 seconds! If your social enterprise or organisation does several projects, try to think about which product or service would be most beneficial/interesting to the person you are talking to.
Networking creates positivity.
This is especially important if you are a small team or one-man band who sometimes feels like you don’t know what you are doing! Surrounding yourself with like-minded people, especially other business owners (and those in the third sector) who understand your business will help you solve problems and create ideas. Do some research though before attending networking groups and events – if they are full of private sector ‘traditional’ businesses (like BNI), it might not be the right environment for a VCSE business. Look up groups such as Damsels in Success, Bizmums, 4Networking and WIRE (Women in Rural Enterprises) who all support third sector and creative businesses. You can also search on meetup.com for free networking events near you.
Networking brings satisfaction.
Most of us are in this sector because we like helping people, and because we want to make an impact on our communities. Offering to help a fellow business owner (without expecting anything in return) gives that extra sense of satisfaction to your day. Not only will you have made a difference to that person, but to their whole organisation and beneficiaries too. In addition, the more you offer to help out/share your skills or knowledge, or simply refer them to someone who can help, the more you build your network and create opportunities for yourself.
Networking brings surprise opportunities.
Talking of opportunities, networking is great for bringing great things to your door. The most unlikely connection could be just the person you need to talk to! Our partners over at VAST in Hanley agree. Colin Williamson, Senior Engagement officer at VAST says “You never know when you are going to make useful connections or pick up new ideas that is going to help your business to grow.”
So now you know the benefits of networking, all you need to do is go out and do it! Our Social Enterprise Matters project aims to give a space to all new and emerging (and established) social enterprises in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent to network freely. Come and join us at our next Peer mentoring hub on the 13th April at Staffordshire University. You can book your free ticket here.