For many people the word “Networking” creates a feeling of anxiety, dread & even nausea! It has connotations of vast rooms full of people mingling around (pre-Covid) & introducing themselves to complete strangers whilst trying to promote themselves & their business ventures. Business cards are flying through the air with promises of coffee & “touching base” as masses of people work the room……
However, thankfully this is not really the case! Even with lockdown restrictions, rules around gatherings & event cancellations, Networking has changed dramatically in the last couple of years.
Many people taking the first steps into self-employment ask for advice on how to get their name out there and start promoting themselves. It’s a natural thing to assume that because you’ve taken the big decision to launch your own business, then everyone naturally knows about it and knows what you’re doing. NEWSFLASH – Apart from maybe family & friends – no-one knows!!!
In order to get your business out into the market it’s going to take more hard work and dedication and a lot of promotion. This is where Networking can become your best friend.
So what exactly is it?? Networking provides an opportunity for business owners to exchange ideas and information with other traders and business people from their local area or business sector. It also offers an opportunity to meet potential clients, suppliers and business partners. Building relationships with other business people in this way is also an important activity for every business owner's personal development.
For many people, the ultimate purpose of networking is to generate new business by finding
potential new business partners and obtaining word-of-mouth referrals, recommendations and
introductions. However, networking can also help to:
• Share or learn about new ideas & concepts.
• Find out what competitors are up to.
• Gather general or specific industry information.
• Get help with any issues or problems you face, from people with appropriate knowledge and experience.
• Keep up to date with new industry developments, regulations and policies.
• Form relationships with potential partners.
• Find out about Awards, Grants or funding.
• Make friends with like minded people who support each other.
Where to start? So, you’re all geared up and ready to start chatting to people about who you are & what you do…but you’re not quite sure where to find these people! Luckily there are lots of options for getting started & often by dipping your toe in the water & getting involved, you hear of more opportunities & groups that may interest you. Here in Northern Ireland we have a few organisations that we can suggest to help get you on your way :
• Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce
• Federation of Small Business
• Women in Business NI
• Enterprise Northern Ireland
• Young Enterprise NI
• Mums At Work Network
We also recommend that you become familiar with Eventbrite and NI Business Info websites as they are actively promoting online events, webinars & networking opportunities that can be completed online and are great tools to use in the current restricted climate. Its also useful to make contact with your local Enterprise Agency & Council to join their mailing lists & keep abreast of what’s going on locally.
Every week there are opportunities to chat with like minded people who want to promote their products & services as well as encourage each other during these trying times. If you haven’t tried a bit of networking yet – now’s the perfect time, so pluck up the courage, fire up the laptop and give it a go!