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Networking is not only a useful way for small businesses to build up a contact list; it’s also a cheap, easy and effective marketing tool. For some, networking skills come naturally, however most of us need a helping hand when it comes to finding and connecting with likeminded business people.
Luckily for entrepreneurs there are many good national and local networking organisations creating structured, supportive, environments where local business people can get together, find out about each other’s products and services, build working relationships and refer on other colleagues and businesses to those who need their services.
These networking organisations allow business people the opportunity to become trusted members of their local business community and to develop strong business relationships. If you’re new to networking we’ve gathered a few of the best networking organisations together. They are all different, each has their own approach and ethos – some ask for a commitment and membership fee, others are more relaxed and let you dip in and out. It’s worth trying a few to find out where you feel most comfortable and where you feel your business can benefit most. Get googling to find business networking opportunities from these organisations and others near you.
The Business Network
The Business Network is 19 years old so its formula for effective networking really is tried and tested. This organisation runs monthly structured meetings where members can meet and discuss their business.
The host at these events provides a contact management process that delivers a professional and successful service month after month. They also give free educational seminars on a wide variety of topics and if you wish to increase the profile of your company you can ask to present a seminar yourself. As well as the members in your local group, you also get free access to the national list of members.
Women in Management (WiM) Network
The WiM Network is a national organisation for women in management (and business owners and directors) that works to provide networking opportunities for women at all stages of their careers from various sectors and professions. Sandra Pollock, National Chair for the CMI Women in Management Network, says WiM events are the perfect opportunity for business women to network with other women developing their career and business. She says that WiM events are good fun and great value - with interesting speakers and the opportunity to meet with a wide range of people. Events are usually advertised in advance and there’s no commitment to attend all of them, you can pick and choose.
BNI is one of the world’s largest referral networks offering a structured, supportive, business environment where like-minded people can meet and build strong business relationships. The BNI have 611 BNI member networks in the UK and Ireland. The company claims that 670,222 referrals were made through these networks in 2011. They also offer a Network Central Facility which allows companies to advertise their business on the BNI website. They groups are organized so that there’s only one person from any given profession, trade or business, with the aim that this will increase referrals in the group. You may have to travel to find a group that’s got an opening for your service if you are an accountant, surveyor or lawyer for example.
Networking offers an alternative to the organised monthly meetings most networking associations offer. They provide both morning and evening meetings to their 314 network groups and also have more than 50,000 online members. Members are encouraged to complete a full online profile where they can use a whole page for promoting their business. Full members can also publish articles on the site and in the 4community magazine. There is also a Personal Message (PM) service available to all members on the website that can be used to get in touch with any member.
Women in Business Network
The Women in Business Network (WIBN) is an organisation that encourages collaboration between women in business through monthly member meetings. The WIBN provides a group leader who facilitates these meetings. Members then network through a carefully structured format which allows them to connect with likeminded people. WIBN has 1100 members and is growing rapidly.