Taking a community-orientated approach to networking

Updated on 6 October 2016

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The phrase ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ has become cliché because it is true. Connecting with people should be an integral part of any business, because meaningful relationships and the referrals they lead to have a direct impact on your day-to-day performance.

Networking needs to be a fundamental element to the business’s strategy.

Networking can be broken down into three steps, each designed to help you boost your small business in a cost-effective manner that can reap great rewards.

Networking 101: Starting Out

What does this idea of networking actually mean?

In simple terms it is all about fostering long-term reciprocal relationships that are maintained and strengthened by continuous and meaningful communication. It is about building a solid community of people who share your vision and goals while simultaneously marketing yourself and promoting brand recognition.

If your referral networks are built on a solid foundation, your immediate community will start relating to your plans, and gradually your influence and purpose will grow to surrounding areas.

Building a network can be as straightforward as introducing yourself to other small businesses in the same area or hosting and attending events – although that will require a little more effort.

Locally, industry-specific events such as 27Dinner and Heavy Chef are an excellent opportunity to connect with impactful people that can help your business to develop and endure future challenges. It is critical that you are out and about to foster actual human connections, as people relate with faces more than email addresses.

Social media networking also has a role to play in helping you to connect with industry leaders and influencers. Your social networks work in the same way as your real-world referral networks, so every interaction will teach you something new. Make sure you engage on all relevant platforms to widen your circle of contacts.

Mutual Benefit

Networking is not just about your business. It’s about what you can do to help those around you so that the benefits received are collective.

A strong sense of community lies at the heart of networking. Building relationships with businesses outside of your industry can spark inspired ideas that would otherwise not have seen the light of day.

A vibrant, excited community is bound to attract people who are keen to support local businesses. Support local businesses around you, as their success will create an increased number of footsteps around the community, translating into profit for everyone.

Consider our own dynamic and spirited local neighbourhoods that bring the community together. The Neighbourgoods Market, First Thursdays and Maboneng Precinct are creative hubs that inspire collaboration and curiosity. The power of cooperation and team work will mean continuous support and the introduction of fresh insights.

Relationships extend beyond other businesses to the people of the community, so show interest in the local culture and the interest in your business will be shown in return.

Show off your brilliance

Networking does not come naturally to a lot of business owners. It requires self confidence that reflects your belief that the business you are selling is something that you are proud to be associated with and to show off.

Handing out your business card and waiting around like a wallflower is pointless. It’s important that every business interaction includes a quality chat. Find a common interest with the person you are chatting to become relatable and memorable.

Make sure you are remembered. The first step is to get out of your comfort zone and meet new people; the second is to make sure you are the first person the think about so that they are more likely to refer you.

Despite the need to connect, it’s important that you are concise and direct around your goals. You should be able to express your elevator pitch elegantly. You reflect your business’s values, so be positive and make sure you stand out. Position yourself as forward-thinking and make sure you have some thought-provoking insights to intrigue your new connection.

If small businesses are the heart of the community, the community will therefore be the heart of a small business. Support and promote those around you to create a healthy, thriving community. It becomes a win-win situation for everyone.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Meade

Now go out there and showcase your brilliance!

About the author: Dov Girnun is the CEO and founder of Merchant Capital. The company is an innovative solution for South African small and medium businesses struggling to access working capital for growth. Merchant Capital offers an alternative to traditional funding option and uses a unique funding and payment model to provide a working capital injection for growing businesses. You can follow them on Twitter@MerchantCap

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