There are many pluses to running your own business – you set your own hours, decide on your daily agenda and have no one to report to, but flying solo can be an isolating experience. It’s important to put yourself and your business out there. Here are the best places to interact and expand your business network:
1. Trade shows and expos
South Africa is seeing an explosion of trade shows. There seems to be a show catering for every interest from SMEs to travel to construction. Trade shows feature exhibitors who are usually industry experts and providers in a particular industry. Visitors are exposed to developments and trends and get to mingle with other visitors.
Tip: Collect as many relevant business cards and brochures and follow up by sending emails to those who may be of use to your business.
Try: My Business Expo; Africa Travel Week: Incentives, Business Travel & Meetings; African Construction Conference & Expo
2. Social media
Most entrepreneurs are already on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn, but many don’t realise that you can use these platforms to expand your business network. Follow people who offer valuable business knowledge on Twitter, watch presentations by your favourite motivation/business gurus on YouTube and join LinkedIn Groups for tips and advice.
Tip: There is a lot of noise online, make sure you are very selective about who you follow and the groups you join.
Try: Who to follow: @BrutusPilusa, @smesouthafrica; @sayentrepreneur; @MkhariGiven; @Louise_Marsland; @samuelmungadze
Related: 10 business groups to follow on LinkedIn
3. Business associations and groups
Joining a business group means you not only get to network with your fellow members, but the group fosters comradeship between members. Members are also kept in the loop about news, legislation and other developments in the marketplace; there may be more membership benefits like promotional and mentoring opportunities.
Tip: Joining an organisation is a big commitment so make sure you do your research. Check if the organisation shares your business principles and that you like their culture.
Try: National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry; South African Black Entrepreneurs Forum, National Small Business Chamber; Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa
4. Speeches, presentations and debates
Many institutions like banks, universities and organisations regularly host presentations by industry leaders or talks and debates around various topical issues. These events are usually free and are often open to the public. Use them to introduce yourself to leaders and find people who may share your views on various issues.
Tip: Events like these are usually small and intimate so introduce yourself to as many people as you can. People may forget names but it’s harder to forget a face.
Try: Sign up to receive newsletters from your favourite organisations and websites to get notifications of upcoming events.
5. Courses, seminars and workshops
Every business owner should be taking some sort of class on an annual basis to keep their business knowledge sharp, whether its financial management or just polishing their leadership skills. The fact that these classes allow you to spend time with other business people is a bonus. Use the classroom setting to learn not only from your teachers but your peers too.
Tip: Your fellow learners can be a valuable resource, keep in touch beyond the end of the course for potential future collaborations.
Try: Do some research, many university business schools like Wits, University of Cape Town, University of the Free State and Stellenbosch University offer short courses as well as FET colleges.