people seated at a business conference

What is business networking?

By BBC Maestro

For any entrepreneur, having a good network is really important. It can open many doors for your business and for you as a business owner. And it can also help keep you informed on some of the latest innovations, trends, and changemakers in the business world.

But what is business networking you ask? In this article, we’ll explain what business networking is, how you do it, and why it’s so important for you to get involved in as an entrepreneur.

What is networking in business?

Business networking is a practice many entrepreneurs, business owners and industry leaders take on in their careers. It’s the act of meeting new people across various sectors, introducing yourself to them and your business, and proactively creating relationships with them. People do it because it can open the doors to meet potential investors, prospective partners, new clients or future employees.

Depending on what stage of your career you’re at, and what experiences you’ve had, you may already have some sort of business network. But no matter how big, small, or useful it is, it’s important to remember that new people and companies are entering the business world all the time with something new to offer. So, it’s always worthwhile investing your time in business networking.

“Developing a network from the very start of your business journey is crucial,” says British businessman, Peter Jones in his online business course. As an entrepreneur, networking gives you the opportunity to get your business idea out there, but also to gain more knowledge and experience of the business world at large. Listening to different people talk about their businesses, the objectives they aim to achieve, and the hurdles they have had to overcome, can spark new ideas for you too.

But it’s not only about making connections that may provide a solution for your business. It can also be that your business is the solution for another business’s need. “Networking helps you find the missing link in the chain to fulfil your objectives or provide the missing link via your own business to help someone else achieve their goals,” says Peter Jones. It’s all about finding new opportunities and it’s never too late to start.

A person on a laptop

How to network

So how do you find new people and start to build that network? Peter Jones explores this in his BBC Maestro course, Toolkit For Business Success. We’ve rounded up a few of his ideas below.

Join business groups

In the early days, it can be hard to work out where to start when it comes to building a business. From funding rounds and up-scaling, to simply wanting to bounce a creative idea off someone else – it can be challenging to choose the right direction.

Fortunately, there are plenty of places you can find like-minded people with different experiences and knowledge to yours, that can be of use. “Try signing up to an online marketing group on the web,” says Peter Jones. You can connect not only with other entrepreneurs but experts too – think researchers, strategists, creatives and marketing specialists who have worked across various fields – all there for the same reason you are.

Take a look at some of the following networks to help get you started:

And if you’re a young entrepreneur and just starting out, you can explore Prince’s TrustNCS or Peter Jones’ very own foundation for helping young entrepreneurs secure a bright future.

Attend conferences

One of the best places to meet new people is at conferences. Where else do you get the opportunity to talk to hundreds of like-minded people, sometimes from all over the world?

You can attend conferences within your own sector or investigate ones within industries that may inspire yours. For example, if you have a food truck business, you could attend the latest food and drink conferences or even retail technology conferences. This will give you an idea of some of the latest trends that are impacting some of your competitors based in food halls, stores or shopping centres.

The perks of exploring conferences in your own industry and further afield, are that you can connect with leading voices in your own space, plus you can branch out and meet people who may be able to give you fresh ideas on your own business. As Peter Jones says, “it’s absolutely vital that you get out there in the market amongst people, listening to them, striking up relationships. You never know, you might just meet that one person that will change your life forever”.

Sometimes putting yourself out there can be a bit daunting, particularly if you consider yourself an introvert. But rest assured, “there’s room in the industry for introverts and extroverts,” says Peter Jones in a discussion with psychologist Dr Hamira Riaz in his online business course. “I’ve seen introverts make excellent entrepreneurial leaders [and] I’ve seen extroverts derail,” says Dr Riaz.

somebody writes on a laptop at a conference

Remember that many people at conferences will be trying to do the same thing as you are. Before you attend, pull together a few sentences you can use as a quick business pitch, and maybe a few opening questions to ask someone else. How do they see the industry changing in the next 5-10 years? Or what are some of the challenges facing it right now? Having a few sentences in your back pocket about you and your business, and some questions to ask whomever you meet, may be useful.

Due to Covid-19, many conferences are now held virtually. Some argue this makes networking harder but, from an accessibility point of view, you now have an opportunity to attend conferences from all over the world, all from the comfort of your own home.

To top it off, think about all of the new people watching alongside you who you never would have had the chance to meet before. Luckily, many leading conferences are making it even easier to network virtually, with some tapping into the likes of gaming platforms and the metaverse. The metaverse is a virtual world where humans can socialise and interact with one another in avatar form. It adopts the practices of gaming and virtual reality (VR) to create hyper-realistic virtual environments. It’s an engaging solution to hosting events like concerts, graduation ceremonies, and conferences in an online world.

Two people meeting

Introduce contacts to others

Another way to expand your network is to help others expand theirs. Maybe you were chatting to someone who works in technology at a family BBQ at the weekend and is looking to do a project with an airline? And it just so happens that you know someone who works in the aviation industry. Put them in touch with one another. It may turn out that both parties have different goals, and it doesn’t work out or it may be the partnership both sides have been waiting for.

Either way, your goodwill and use of initiative will be evident. And you never know, it may make them more inclined to put you in touch with someone from their network… and when that happens, your network expands too.

As Peter Jones says, “entrepreneurs are made, not born”. As an entrepreneur, it’s your responsibility to get out there and get your business the recognition it deserves. By starting conversations with people you’d never usually meet, asking for advice when it feels right, and helping others where you can, you’re on the right track to building a vast business network you can dip into for the rest of your career.

If you want to learn more about the business world and entrepreneurship, take a look at Peter Jones’ course Toolkit For Business Success.

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