Whether you're trying to grow your business or climb the career ladder, developing personal relationships with other business professionals is crucial. Business networking can open up doors. You’ll find new job opportunities, industry knowledge, recruitment leads, and prospective clients you might not have had access to otherwise.
In this guide, you'll learn what business networking is, the benefits of business networking, and some tips from real-life experts on how to build a strong business network
What is business networking?
Business networking refers to the act of building relationships with other business professionals, potential customers, and suppliers to help you grow your business. The relationships you forge during networking are typically symbiotic. This means you offer something to these experts, such as advice, opportunities, or partnerships, in exchange for something in return.
Networking can happen face-to-face at business conferences, seminars, social events, and through industry connections. However, with more people working from home, it is harder to network in person now than it used to be.
Thankfully, there are virtual networking events available that still help you meet people and expand your horizons.
You can also network with people online, through social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn.
The Benefits of Business Networking
Seventy-nine percent of professionals believe that career success depends on networking — and they’re completely right!
As you meet different people, you're building a long list of contacts that can help you advance in your career or grow your business. Here are some benefits of networking according to industry experts.
1. You’ll have increased access to job opportunities.
Networking with people in your industry can give you access to job opportunities that you might not have gotten otherwise. That may be a referral, a request for your product or service, or a potential partnership.
"In this day and age, it’s not just about what you can do, it’s also about who you know. Expanding your network is a necessary step in securing the job you want,” Bilbo says. “The more connected you are, the better chance you have of finding meaningful opportunities and connections."
Savannah's right. Business networking is important because the higher the position, the less the job is advertised.
As you advance in your career, you’ll have to rely more heavily on your network to find your dream job.
2. You’ll experience increased visibility.
Regularly attending professional events and communicating with thought leaders online increases your visibility. You’ll have a higher chance of getting noticed.
You can use your increasing popularity to build a personal brand, position yourself as an expert in your field, and provide useful information to people who need it.
3. You can grow your business.
When you network with one person, you're potentially building relationships with that person's network too. If they know someone who can potentially be an investor or a customer for your business, you're likely to get an introduction or a referral as long as you made a great first impression.
Drawing on her experience with link building, Irina Maltseva, the founder of ONSAAS says, "The best links we built were acquired through networking and long-lasting partnerships. It's extremely difficult to get mentions on Forbes and Entrepreneur through cold outreach. But it becomes easier when you have contacts there."
Bryan Benajaro, the Content Consultant at Comunicacion de Impacto, echoes Maltseva's experience: "Having a network of contacts allowed me to reach potential clients in a more effective and direct way, saving me hours of cold calls and meetings to pitch my services."
4. You can become a more effective recruiter.
If you're hiring employees, networking can help you find talented people who share your values. You can reach out to your contacts for recommendations. This makes your job easier — your contacts will only recommend people they trust or worked with in the past.
"I have hired dozens of employees on recommendations from business colleagues I have networked with,” he says. “It's also great because you can return the favor and help someone get a job."
5. You’ll build an amazing support system.
No job is easy. Sometimes, you need people to give you career advice and support. In this case, you can talk to your network of experienced peers, ask them questions, and discuss your challenges with them.
Speaking from personal experience, Ashley Romer, SEO Link Manager at PaperStreet Web Design, explains, "I am part of a Slack community for women in the SEO industry. This network of like-minded people has been an amazing support system for sharing ideas and troubleshooting common issues I’ve had within my client projects."
6. You can expand your knowledge.
Your network can be a great source of innovative ideas. Whether you're explaining a problem or asking for feedback, speaking with your business contacts can help you see things from a different perspective.
"One of the biggest benefits of networking within my industry is learning new strategies and tactics that [people] don't share on social media, newsletters, or blogs," says Ryan Turner, founder of E-Commerce Intelligence. "I've found that business owners and marketers are far more open to sharing their most valuable golden nuggets in a personal setting after developing a real connection with someone."
Sometimes, you might relate with professionals who've already been in your shoes. This allows you to learn from their experiences and avoid making mistakes they’ve made in the past.
7. You’ll build your confidence.
As you continually put yourself out there, you're building invaluable social skills and confidence that will carry over into other areas of your life.
Confidence is especially important for a business owner or someone in a leadership position. The growth of a business hinges on being able to engage with people and forge lasting relationships.
Tips for Business Networking
Business networking can be tricky to navigate if you're just starting. To give you some clarity, here are some tips that'll help you forge profitable, long-lasting relationships with other professionals.
1. Have a goal before you get started.
Before you attend a networking event, it's helpful to determine the goals you want to achieve or things you want to learn from each contact. This will help you figure out the kinds of people to approach.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you want to learn more about your industry? If yes, talk to thought leaders and experts in your industry.
- Are you looking to increase brand awareness? Talk to people who are likely to use your product or need your service. They don't necessarily have to be in your industry, but they should need what you have to offer.
- Are you in search of a new job? Talk to people who work in leadership roles at companies you'd like to work for.
Knowing what you want to get out of each relationship will help you approach the right people and have a successful networking experience.
2. Attend business networking events.
One of the best ways to meet other business professionals is to attend networking events, seminars, and conferences. Having one-on-one conversations with people gives you a chance to learn more about them, make a good first impression, and tell them about what you do.
For example, HubSpot hosts an annual event called Inbound for professionals in sales, marketing, and customer experience. This event gives people an opportunity to network with others and learn new skills.
"I found that in-person events are the best way to start and expand a relationship,” says Valentin Wallyn, the founder of FindyMail. “You can (and should) nurture those relationships online (eg. on Linkedin) after, but there's just something about seeing someone face to face that makes that relationship 10x more powerful."
3. Create a LinkedIn profile.
LinkedIn is a business platform with 875 million members and nearly 60 million registered companies. This makes it a goldmine of networking connections and job opportunities.
With LinkedIn, you can find people who work at your dream company and talk to them about the hiring process. You can speak to experienced people in different industries and build friendships with them.
Plus, when you meet a professional at a networking event, you can get in touch with them on LinkedIn after the event to continue the conversation.
"I recently became active on LinkedIn and saw results within months,” says Gower. “By intentionally building a network and posting things my connections might find valuable, I kept myself top of mind. When they need any of the services I offer, they think of me and reach out."
4. Join communities relevant to your field.
Just like Ashley Romer who's a member of a Slack group for women in SEO, you should join communities in your industry. These communities open up opportunities to meet like-minded people who can help you advance your career, solve problems, and support you.
"I'm on at least 10 Facebook groups for marketers, writers, SEO specialists, and editors," Chrissy Kapralos, President of No Worries Writing Co. recounts. "I communicate with other group members, write posts asking for insights, write comments offering my experiences, and create relationships this way. It has resulted in new clients for my company."
5. Give as much as you take.
Business networking is a two-way street. No relationship you build is likely to last if all you do is ask for favors.
To be successful at networking, look for opportunities where you can share your knowledge, give advice, or help your contacts connect with other people that will benefit them.
"When you meet with someone — especially when you’re meeting with someone more senior in your field — ask if there’s any way you can help them,” Doty says. “And offer to give advice to more junior people in your field too. It will pay off in the long run."
From experience, being selfless helps a great deal when building a business network. James Taylor, the founder of James Taylor SEO believes this too: "Be the kind of person that helps others and doesn't ask for anything back. It might feel like you're giving away something for nothing, but people will remember and appreciate your help, and it's often surprising how far they'll go to return the favor."
6. Network with local businesses or vendors.
Having a physical location shouldn't stop you from networking. If you have a physical store, try visiting local businesses or vendors in the area. Talk to them, share ideas, and attend events together that can help entrepreneurs grow their local businesses.
This way, you have people to rely on when you need something and vice versa.
7. Be genuine.
When networking, be genuinely interested in the person you're trying to forge a relationship with. Being fake and only trying to use people for your own benefit doesn't win anyone over in the long term.
Sully Tyler who grew a successful business off the back of networking can't emphasize this enough.
"In a way, it’s as if people can smell when you want to use them to grow your business, and no one really likes that,” Tyler says. “But if you truly make the effort to get to know the people you meet and maintain amicable relationships with them, they’re more likely to trust you and see you as someone they would like to do business with."
8. Always be networking.
Networking isn't a one-off thing. If you're looking to build a strong network, you should be building relationships with people 24/7.
As Mathu K. Mathu, President of Ryptic Team Building says, "Never turn off your networking antenna. There are lots of opportunities in your everyday life to meet new people, connect with people you've known in a more effective way, revive old or dormant relationships, and just generally be helpful to others in a way that makes them want to be helpful to you. Always be on the lookout for these opportunities, and always be ready to take advantage of them as they come up."
Make Meaningful Business Connections
Business networking involves more than just distributing your business cards and hoping you get callbacks. You have to have discussions with other people and help them out as best you can — and they'll do the same for you. You might not get referrals the second you meet them, but if you cultivate the relationship, you'll see results.