One area that small businesses frequently look to for help is networking activity. And it’s a good thing, too!
Business research teams around the world have been studying small business networking using scientific research methods with encouraging results. One research team in Australia learned that the small to mid-sized business is more likely to achieve excellence by networking than when networking is not part of the firms’ regular activities. As our economy becomes increasingly information and knowledge-based, the need to network becomes ever more pressing. Combine person-to-person networking with social media-based networking and you ratchet your chances for success several fold.
When a company has a well-developed, trusted network, it is in a better position to focus on its core competencies and its partners can cover other aspects of projects which, for the network partners, are more in their ‘wheelhouse’. I’ve reviewed several of these studies and offer you these thoughts and findings which I hope will help you this year. Let’s start with a simple definition. Networking is simply an activity in which small business owners build and manage personal relationships with particular individuals in their surroundings. Cooperation is important to growing our small . Networking means developing trust that when I ‘scratch your back’ you will, at some point, ‘scratch mine’. Successful working relationships develop when the people in our professional circles share these expectations. We form these extended, long-term networks with potential collaborators because the market provides an incentive for us to do so. There are also certain social ‘wins’ that we enjoy from networking. These can include improving the quality of our lives. As it turns out, the people we meet in our professional lives sometimes become personal friends, too. Our networks help us extend our influence by word of mouth reputation for the work we do and the kinds of people we are.
Networking relationships move through multiple stages
Stage One. We look inwardly at our companies and evaluate our strengths and areas where we have some opportunities to improve. At some point, we begin evaluating what parts of a complete customer solution we might want to outsource to people we trust. Third, we consider the people we know in our area that might have skills or resources that could fill the gaps in our ability to meet those customer needs. During the process, we get to learn about a partners skill set, social skills, ethics, sense of responsibility and other important attributes that help us in the long-term partner selection process. In this firm, each small business owner recognizes an opportunity to improve his/her ability to compete by cooperating with other similar businesses.
Stage Two. Given early success in stage one, we continue to work with certain ‘power partners’ and the relationships continue to evolve. These relationships we’re building have the potential of either improving our standard of living or, if unsuccessful, might damage it. Trust is paramount and with repeated, positive exchanges where partnering leads to mutual gain, trust increases. Trust is also built when people in our networks share valuable information and when those ideas are successfully implemented.
Stage Three. Interactions among several partners become more routinized and sometimes resources will flow between partners. Business owners begin to consider not only activities that directly benefit their business, but also consider the impact of their activities on the good of the organization. Through sheer frequency of partnering on projects, membership roles and responsibilities become more defined or structured. We continue to invest our time and resources in these growing networks when we’re rewarded with direct business benefits that come from network members or by referral from members.
Before too long, you’ll find you’re in orbit headed for Planet Success!