The idea of chucking in your day job and going it alone is a common theme for many small business owners. In the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment 2014 Small Business Report, a full one third of all small business owners said they did it for the lifestyle.
The problem with ditching employment and setting up shop for yourself, is that sometimes you end up ditching all the support people and networks that go hand in hand with working for someone else. It’s not until they’re gone that you start to realise the importance of the simple notion of bouncing an idea off someone else. 97% of New Zealand businesses have fewer than 10 employees — when you’re that thin on the ground, you often don’t have all the necessary skills required to do everything your business needs. That’s where having a network you can call on can really help.
The good news is, even if you’ve temporarily forgotten about networking with other people as you start out in business, there are plenty of options when it comes to getting back in the swing of things. Here are a few tips for making the most of networking.
Your accountant is part of you network too
There is more than one type of network. Your accountant, your lawyer, your banker and any other professionals you engage form part of what I call your ‘operational’ network. They (the good ones at least) bring with them a wealth of specific, subject-related knowledge that you can tap into for the benefit of your business. So make sure you get your money’s worth out of these people and build a relationship that makes full use of their skills and services.
Seek out other small business owners
Another type of network is actually something most of us tend to do quite naturally whenever we talk to our peers and fellow business owners. Any time you meet with and share ideas with other business owners you’re networking. So, keep in touch with other business owners at every opportunity in order to discover new opportunities, ideas, and gain invaluable knowledge from the experience of others.
Finding the time to network can be a sticking point for some of us, so sometimes it can help to attend an organised networking evening in your local area. BNZ runs regular networking evenings all around the country.
Invest in yourself, consider a business mentor
Business mentoring is essentially another form of networking, but in this case it’s more of a one-on-one affair. A mentor is someone who has experience in business and is willing to share that expertise with you in face-to-face meetings, over the phone or via email. There’s usually a cost involved, but look at it as an investment in your business.
Along similar lines, there are a number of organisations dedicated to helping business owners become better business people. The Icehouse runs a number of popular workshops and programmes designed to help you get better at actually running your business — something we tend to overlook as we get bogged down in the daily grind.
Social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter offer a wealth of opportunities to engage with other business owners (not to mention customers and potential customers) quickly and easily. Each social network has its own audience and operates in a slightly different way. For instance, Twitter is more of a fast-paced live conversation, whereas LinkedIn and Facebook tend to take things a bit slower and make it easier to dip in and out.
Knowing which one is going to be the best fit for your business is important, as, despite preconceptions, social takes time and effort to do well. One thing they all have in the common, however, is the ability to access them from pretty much anywhere using a mobile phone.