BUSINESS

The Importance of Networking for SMEs

Max Steinberg CBE

Max Steinberg

Max Steinberg

It’s easy to forget in the age of email and Skype, but face-to-face networking is the bedrock of business growth. Making the effort to meet people and make connections can pay dividends to your business and, particularly for SMEs,may well open up the door to your next opportunity.

This hypothesis is backed up bya study from chartered accountants Kingston Smith, which reveals that two-thirds of UK SMEs dedicate one to six hours per week to face-to-face networking and interaction[1]. This has been shown to be just as important to their success as online networking, with 94% of SMEs considering direct referrals important to their continuing success.

As the Chair of the International Business Festival, I have seen hundreds of SMEs attend the Festival and leave with a range of new contacts from across the world.From manufacturers to creative agencies, these businesses benefited from meeting people in their industry and making individual connections. It all starts with a handshake and an introduction, and there are a few things you can do to fine tune your networking skills.

Embrace events

Stepping out of your office for networking is a significant time investment but the benefits outweigh this and the key is to find the right event for you. Some SMEs might think that face-to-face networking with international partners and clients is out of their reach, and something more suited to emails, conference calls or social media. In fact, meeting and networking with your peers from across the globe is easier than you think if you find the right event. For UK based businesses, this doesn’t necessarily mean costly and lengthy trips overseas. The International Business Festival has been held in Liverpool since 2014, bringing a wealth of international businesses to our doorstep. With a specially curated series of events that cater to specific industries like logistics, future transport and global economics,it’s a major opportunity to meet new business contacts across different sectors. Having so many potential investors, prospects and collaborators in one place is a great opening to begin conversations with the people you could be working with.

Sell your speciality

Think about what makes you different from your competitors and turn this into your selling point. If you can show people that you have taken the time and effort to consider what you can offer to them specifically, and what makes you distinct from other companies, this can work in your favour.

Do your homework

Conduct research ahead of an event regarding who will be attending the same event as you. This will mean you are in a good position to plan your conversations with your key targets you want to connect with. Preparation is important for any kind of business work, so you are equipped and ready to sell yourself and your business to the right person.

Use a marathon mentality

Adopt a long-term approach to networking and invest in your connections. Something as simple as following up with new contacts you have recently met may seem obvious, but it can be easily forgotten in the daily running of a business. Shaking hands and taking business cards is all very well but it’s also equally important to ensure that you follow up and begin to cultivate a real relationship.

Keep your friends close

Your contacts are among your greatest assets. Mixing with different types of business people means you will have a wealth of talent and inspiration to draw from. It’s likely that your business will change many times over its lifespan and that’s when having a properly maintained range of contacts will be really advantageous. In developing the International Business Festival, I have been able to utilise my connections and put them to good use. People are more likely to be open to collaborating when you have worked together and they trust you, so the ability to bring your contacts to new stages of your career is a vital skill. It doesn’t cost anything; it just requires dedication and a personal touch.

Max Steinberg CBE is the chair of the International Business Festival 2018, which is coming to Liverpool from 12-28 June 2018. Find out more and buy tickets here:internationalbusinessfestival.com

[1]https://www.kingstonsmith.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/SME-Social-Capital-mini-report.pdf

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