Running your own small business can sometimes feel like operating in a time vacuum. There are never enough hours in the day to get all the work done, let alone do admin, your accounts or additional training.
The idea of taking a day out to attend a seminar or business event – and losing income – can feel impossible, or a waste of time. But these opportunities to meet and learn from like-minded people in a face-to-face environment are invaluable for inspiration, collaboration and your bottom line.
Here, networking specialist and Relatus CEO Julia Palmer and change strategist and entrepreneur coach Belle Lockerby explain why networking and events are critical for your business, and how to get the most out of them.
Tech is great, but a handshake rules
The number of tech platforms that exist to connect business owners is immense, and it is easier than ever to find suppliers, reach potential customers and upskill. But this has also diminished people’s perceived need or ability to develop personal connections, says Palmer.
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“I believe it’s an excuse for all those that don’t want to step out of comfort zone to not,” she says.
“Face-to-face conversations are deeper and wider, you can respond to and assess non-verbal cues which are proven to build trust and build stronger bonds and, most importantly, you can make a decision if you like the person or not.”
She says no matter how advanced tech gets, we are still influenced by handshakes, appearance and mannerisms.
People inspire people
Lockerby agrees that meeting in person is still the most powerful way to connect with others. Sharing failings or revealing your vulnerabilities can speed up the learning process, as well as encourage collaboration and group dynamics.
“I run a lot of face-to-face programs, and I do see both business collaborations and friendships form at a much faster rate than some of the online communities,” she says.
“Cross collaboration is beneficial as I have seen people from one industry (web development) help identify new market opportunities for other industries (photography) as sometimes a problem you are facing can be solved by someone else. A set of fresh eyes is incredibly helpful.”
Referrals are all about who you know
Pressing the flesh at business events is an easy way to build your referral network and business prospects, says Palmer.
“I always say, it’s not who you know anymore or even who knows you, it’s who’s promoting you!” she says.
“Imagine having hundreds of people doing this? It’s the sales force money can’t buy.
“The best part is that referrals are 400 per cent more likely to convert so it’s the fastest way to grow and succeed.”
Change your mindset
Shedding the ‘I can’t waste time on events’ attitude is the first step towards potential growth for yourself as a business owner, and for your company. Palmer suggests looking at events with an opportunity mindset, not a cost mindset.
“If you are finding yourself always approaching potential opportunities with ‘I can’t’, then it might be looking at how to change both the conversation and the actions to ‘I can’,” she says.
Lockerby suggests planning your strategy beforehand:
- Who is attending the event that I could learn from?
- What could I contribute to the event?
- How can I change my business operations to allow me to attend?
- What sales strategies could I put in place before going to cover any potential lost sales?
- What are three conversations that I could have to help me grow my business?
“A good friend of mine recently attended an event and walked out with a $15,000 coaching client,” she says.
“She intentionally went with opportunity in mind – not a bad return for a $125 ticket.”
Choose the right event for you
Palmer acknowledges that small business owners simply don’t have time to waste on events that are not relevant to them. It’s a commonly made mistake.
“An accountant who attended one of my courses said that he had networked for a year with no results and was ready to give up – turns out he was networking at the wrong events and hence not finding relevant contacts,” she says.
Palmer advises to research the event, host group, speakers and potential attendees and have a strategy, whether you’re after knowledge, sales leads or simply interacting with other entrepreneurs.
Networking means business
Business opportunities abound through personal connections made at events. Lockerby has seen owners flip their business models, and small startups double their rates and power up from a single-person operation to one with a staff of four within six months.
She attended an entrepreneurs’ event in the US and ran a session dubbed ‘the bathroom mastermind’ with two business owners, a whiteboard marker and a window to help streamline their products to provide a better return on energy.
“One lady wanted to take her business on the road, and just couldn’t see how to structure her products to make it happen,” she says.
“After a little creative drawing on a window, we had a plan mapped out, and next thing I know, she is off running live sessions on making money from Amazon.
“Things can turn around very quickly in real life – especially when unearthing opportunities.”
QuickBooks Connect is a unique experience designed for those who work for themselves. Our one-day event will bring together keynote speakers, small-business panels, and breakout sessions designed to connect and engage you with experts and peers who understand your journey as a small business owner.