What makes a successful network for business owners and managers? Learn about social network theory; who is a stakeholder in your business and how effective networking can help your business; and which is the best social media platform for your business.
What is a network? A small business network is one where you join with other like and defined businesses to form a successful network to share information and support each other's growth.
Social network theory and analysis demonstrate the importance of making connections and building relationships; the impact on your business can be significant.
Networking effectively can be challenging, particularly if you are not comfortable in new environments. It can also be time consuming however if you work at it, it will pay off.
Before picking the 'right' social media platform became today's current challenge, small business owners were building local, face-to-face, business relationships.
Social network theory demonstrates that the power of the network is in building new, and much more far-reaching, business relationships.
Business owners cannot ignore the power of online social networks; you must include at least one (and hopefully more) online social media platform in your business strategy plan.
Before getting too far into the process of building your business community, you need to define who is a stakeholder in your business. Then you need to develop a social network map to plot the connection points - both online and offline. And you need to include that definition and mapping into your marketing and communications strategy.
When building your small business plan make sure that one of your strategic goals is to join a network (and don't forget to join the right type of association - for example, an industry or trade association).
Also consider working with business mentors or business coaches; the right mentor or coach can provide very effective support. And, if you have enough staff, consider building an internal committee with key staff (make sure you define who is a stakeholder for the specific committee goals - you'll get a more focused committee) to help you drive your business forward.
Every small business strategy needs to include an action plan for joining or building an effective network.
Have an excellent facilitator; someone who is responsible for pulling the group together and keeping it on track.
This can be both offline and online. In the case of the online facilitator it might be that the social media platform acts as the facilitator (e.g. there are rules to join these communities, and the rules facilitate participation).
Be prepared to share (information that is).
For offline networks, the strategies are somewhat more within your 'span of control'. Online networks are within the control of the group.
Always work with an agenda.
Hold meetings regularly and consistently. (Meetings could be in person, online, or over the phone.) To make this network successful, it is important to have at least monthly meetings; frequency and consistency (for example, the third Tuesday of every month) does count. On average, meetings would be between 3 and 6 hours long (depends on how many in your group and what the issues are). (Usually the first three or four meetings are longer to accommodate the "getting to know you" time needed.)
Confirmation that you're on the right track. Or not.
Shared experiences. Sometimes you just need to hear how others would deal with your challenge.
A comparison of basic financials (don't give all the details, use percentages; such as gross profit at 8%; bad debt at 0.5%; sales revenue above plan (if a new company) by 5%, or below last year's actual by 3% and so on). In other words, are you on track compared to the others in your network? Why? Why not?
Sometimes it can lead to new customers within the group and referrals outside the group.
But you can't get anything (or enough) out of a network unless you are willing to put time, energy and resources into it.
As a small business owner or manager, it is easy to not get out of your comfort zone and not participate or build this connection. You don't have the time. You don't have the money (there is almost always a direct or indirect (your time) cost to participation). What could they know about how to run my business (especially people who don't work in my industry)?
You need to build this connection and community to help you find the time to do more with less. You need to build it to make more money or at least to spend it on the right things. Business people outside your industry can bring fresh ideas to your problems and challenges. Business people inside your industry might have contacts or help that will get you to your solutions faster.
Most importantly, a successful network can help you build a successful business.
I attended a Board of Trade meeting a number of years ago, the discussion topic was networking. At that meeting, I met Darcy Rezac, who, at the time, was the Managing Director of the Board of Trade. Darcy gave a compelling presentation on the art (and science) of networking.
Shortly after that meeting, I bought Darcy's book "The Frog and Prince"; one of the lines from his well-written book was "in networking you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince". The truth of that has stuck with me. I probably have kissed a lot of frogs but I've also found a lot of princes. There is great value in networking on both a business and personal level.
I cannot stress strongly enough that I think you need to find the time and the resources to build your network.
Doing this has always paid off for me in whatever business I have been in!
Remember to add building your successful network as a key objective when creating your business plan.
Also consider the advantages of online social networks (build your online social media strategies into your marketing plan).
If you need help building a successful network, use the Contact Us form, provide your contact information, and I'll see if I can help you or refer you.
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