As business owners, should we regularly make the time to attend networking events? Should it be something we prioritise in our business planning.

For many people, the issue is ‘does it win me business?’ and when the answer is ‘probably not’ they will not attend the function. Perhaps the benefits as a professional and a business owner of attending networking events should be seen to go beyond business development and financial return.

Instead, a focus on what we can give to the networking groups should be encouraged. This may include recommendations and referrals for other businesses, advice on marketing strategies that have worked well in business, or sharing ideas on how to improve cash flow management.

In addition to local networking events, there’s also the various industry associations. Once again, these should not necessarily be seen as a source of business, but instead as a way to keep knowledge up to date and for professional development. If attending such a function results in a referral – perhaps because the person recommending you is too busy or it’s not their area of specialisation – then that should be viewed as a happy bonus.

All this isn’t to say that building a network isn’t important. Obviously within any business, there is a network of other businesses that they regularly work with, recommend and refer clients to. In the architectural field these include builders, tradesmen, furniture suppliers and more. In turn, these providers tend to refer clients to their architects. But these relationships generally do not develop through networking events. They come from working together on client projects, developing a good working relationship and maintaining connections after the conclusion of a project.

In short, building a network that benefits your business involves more than just rocking up to the occasional event – and anyone that tells you otherwise is being disingenuous. But putting in the time and effort will be well-rewarded if you approach these relationships with a spirit of cooperation, helpfulness and generosity.

Tips for successful networking

  • Be realistic about what each networking group can offer you. It’s okay for it just to be a nice social event and a way to connect with other local business owners. Small business owners are under a lot of pressure and to be able to support each other is a gift.
  • Remember that it’s also about what you can give. Be generous with your time and advice. Approaching networking events with the intention to be helpful is far more rewarding than just seeing it as a chance to build business leads.
  • Take a people-first approach and concentrate on fostering relationships before business partnerships. As small business owners, we tend to do business with people before organisations, so remember to take the time to get to know your suppliers and business partners as individuals.
  • Be generous with your referrals to other businesses in your network. Remember, being helpful is its own reward.
  • Approach industry-specific networking as an opportunity to learn first, develop business relationships second, and gain leads last.

Don’t limit your network – there’s always room for more people. For example, as an architect, I have multiple builders that I recommend to clients, as they have different areas of expertise and different personalities that clients may or may not connect with. Equally, I know that I’m not the only architect that my suppliers recommend.