For me, in the early stages and years of starting up my business, I have to say Networking was not a fun thing to do and not of much benefit as it often left me cold and much more anxious about myself and my business. Then I found the better Networking events that suited me, my personality and my business better.
When you’re running a craft business, marketing your skills, services or products should be top of your priorities. But because networking was leaving me cold it was the one area I really did not want to look at how I could use this as a way to Market my Craft Business but also as a great place to do some Public Relations (PR) for my Craft Business as well. One way in which you can promote your business is to get involved with business networking events. But they have to be the right ‘fit’ for you and for your business as well.
Business networking events can be beneficial for craft business owners in a number of ways. Firstly, they’re a good opportunity for you to get together and interact with other small, or large, business owners and share tips, advice and experience.
Secondly, many networks that meet regularly actively encourage the sharing of business leads, experience, skills and information. This can lead to the generation of work or sales, which can be very lucrative for your business.
You also get to build up your authority, your trust and your integrity as a business and also as a crafter as well – people get to see how good your work is, your background story, your value, your quality and you can often become the ‘go to ‘ craft person or business that you get referred to and from that build up a network of customer referrals as well.
Various types of business networking groups and events run regularly throughout the country, and most are usually open to accepting new members, or at least have a waiting list available for potential new members. The membership of these groups varies – some, for example, are open to women only, others for people running particular types of businesses – and in some cases you may need to be proposed for membership by an existing member.
Local business networking groups should be well advertised, but if you’re having problems finding their details, a quick search on the internet should reveal some possible options. A good starting point for new business owners who interact with a number of other local businesses is a local Chamber of Commerce. Also look at a Local Business organisation specifically aimed at you ie if women – your local Women`s Organisation – or Local Creative Hub or ask around if there is something that is more specific to Creatives, Artists or Crafters – you might be surprised what and who is out there.
As spare time is often limited for people running their own businesses, many groups host events at business-friendly times, such as first thing in the morning (breakfast networking) or in the evening.
Sadly I found out that I hated breakfast networking – I do not like the 6.30am networking events – just not for me, I also found the late night ones were just as bad – so I found that I enjoyed for instance, those that suits alot of mums with young families – 10am networking events and early evening 6 – 8 pm. For me it ‘fit’ my family commitments and also in regards to traveling and my work life balance – yes you are meant to have one of those.
The exact format of events will differ, but typical activities include the chance for a short plug and promotion of your business (especially when attending for the first time), and the opportunity to hand out business cards, have debates and discussion.
I also found that with many of the Networking events that I attend – knowing my ideal client and getting in front of them was also key – but I also took up opportunities to do a lead slot – promoting my business, explaining who I was and what I was all about. Take up opportunities not just to show case your business, but also to deliver talks on areas of interest for you and what you might want to share with others.
Prices and fees for joining vary between groups. Some can be quite expensive for a new small business owner to afford, so you’ll need to weigh up and consider how valuable the promotion for your business will be. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the networking groups that thrive on lead generation often require a lot of extra time and dedication. When looking at the budgeting of Networking again budget this into your Marketing plan and strategy – do you have a marketing budget? If so then look at it as good investment in yourself and your business.
What I found in the Networking groups that I was supported to get more understanding of my business and interaction with other business owners and like minded people – often the other Networking events did not feel as ‘user friendly’ for me personally as a woman but also as a woman business owner of a craft business – sadly some I came into contact with viewed me and my business as a hobby and not a ‘real’ business in their view. So you do have to trial out a few to find what suits you and where you and your craft business have a good ‘fit’ and also be able to get you in front of your target audience and also in contact then with your ‘ideal or super customer’.
Networking should most definitely be on your marketing strategy or planning – one of the biggest things I learnt about networking, very quickly is this, do not go there just to sell – this was the biggest turn off I found in some of the early days of my networking experiences, people who only came to sell and it got quite annoying for me – I do not do aggressive selling or in your face selling, for me I wanted to meet other businesses, other people, share experiences, grow support and friendships and be able to showcase the benefits of my products, my business and what I am all about. So do have some thoughts about why you want to go networking and where.
In addition to the more formal business networking groups, there are often slightly more informal, events taking place. These sessions can also be a good way of promoting your business and can widen the promotion abilities, as you often get the chance of mixing with people that you wouldn’t normally know, especially with events that are held locally.
For me I liked the informality of where I network – it suits me – I prefer the coffee and chat approach rather than around tables and formal side of it all – it also ‘fit’ with my business and my approach, my personality and who I wanted to connect with as well.
More informal Business Networking and your craft business can also allow you to build up support, connections, friendships, sharing with like minded people, positive interactions and also reduce isolation as well – after all running any business can be isolating and lonely – so make use of it and again similar to the more formal networking – do not go to just sell. Its all about interaction and building up your tribe, your support structure around you and from that you often find good solid referrals for work will also come.
Another form of business networking that is well worth exploring is online networking. Social networking has become massively popular and, as well as interacting on a social basis, it can be extremely useful for businesses to use.
There are dedicated business networking sites which you can join – some for free, others for a small fee – and interact with other businesses. One of the main benefits of online business networking is that it widens the scope of interaction and you can get in contact with people from all over the UK and internationally.
For specialist craft businesses, this may be a better way to interact with others running similar firms, enabling you to share tips and learn from other people’s experiences. Online networking sites are also really useful for business promotional purposes, as you can create a profile to link with your account and promote your craft business.
When you first join an online business networking site, give careful thought to how you write your profile. If you don’t get it right first time, it should be easy to edit it. Think about what keywords people may be searching for and add any that are relevant to your business into your profile. In theory, this could help them to find you and give added promotion to your business.
To be honest the list for online Business Networking is huge – but again I would really recommend you do not just blindly run into it all trying to do all the online networking places or sites but select what is relevant to you, see if it ‘fits’ your business and what you are saying and doing, and give it some time and look at the results – there are loads for instance on Facebook that people do to get more likes – but sadly many do nothing and some can even be detrimental to your actual FB organic reach – so again like everything do your homework, look at where your competitors are networking and if it is working for them and they are successful with it – then look at emulating them and see if it works for you – analyse your numbers and your returns – and if it is successful for you – fabulous keep doing what doing right and enjoy. If not, stop spending time in market places that are not reaching your target audience and where your ideal customer is obviously not shopping or looking in.