Why you still need human contact in a digital business world

networking activities

In today’s digital world it’s easier to connect than ever before. This is great news for small business owners who need to find products and services and ‘meet’ other owners through networking activities on online forums and groups – but does that mean human contact is redundant? Absolutely not.

Maintaining physical connections, particularly through events or networking functions, helps to overcome isolation, improve your mental and professional wellbeing and find your ‘tribe’ of people who can inspire you.

Here, entrepreneur James Grugeon, founder of Brisbane social enterprise The Good Beer Co. and Arash Harandian, founder of regional Victorian co-working space Business Hub at Queenscliff Marina, share their insights into why face-to-face engagement is so important to small business.

Balancing online and offline

Harandian says technology is fantastic for streamlining your business as it offers standardised services that save time and are cost-effective. But, he says, creativity and professional relationships are still crucial to a successful business.

“People are most creative when working in collaboration, and best results are always born from robust debates, both of which require relationships, personal contact and collaboration,” he tells SmartCompany.

Grugeon agrees, and even though he’s a prolific user of technology for Good Beer Co., personal relationships are key.

“I think there is a real danger that we forget the value of face-to-face conversations because using email, text or Facebook messenger is quicker, easier or, worse, avoids looking someone in the eyes when something needs dealing with.” The last point, he says, means relationships can suffer.

Spending more time offline and interacting with humans is great for your happiness levels, too. The recent Compass for Life survey from the Australian Psychological Society revealed Australians who developed strong relationships and were involved with their various communities are happier than those who chose to spend more time online, and on social media specifically.

You can’t always trust a computer

Grugeon says face-to-face relationships are absolutely vital to his business because, first and foremost, they are about trust.

“They are nearly always much stronger relationships built on trust and mutual respect because you’ve sat down opposite someone and talked to them, taken the time to get to know them and to show them who you are and what you’re about,” he says.

Like many new startup founders, he finds it imperative to meet people, whether they be investors, media or supporters, and explain the concept behind Good Beer Co. in person in order to gain trust and build long-lasting mutually beneficial relationships.

A cure for loneliness

Grugeon says working alone in his startup, which collaborates with brewers to create beer that raises money for environmental and charitable causes, can be isolating.

“You’re often on your own and, in my case, you don’t have a business partner, team or colleagues around to bounce ideas off, talk through challenges or worries with or even just share the load day to day or when it gets tough,” he says.

Co-working is one way small business owners can break out of their ‘bubble’ and maintain their interpersonal skills, both by working within the shared space and attending regular business events and seminars hosted by business hubs.

“There is definitely a need for face-to-face interactions for long term business relationships, and  many co-working spaces have proven that,” says Harandian.

“You can have social, professional interactions or meet your next client there.”

Use events to keep up with change

Attending the right events – those that are relevant to your industry, experience or your goals – can boost your confidence as a business owner, expand your network of potential clients and help you keep on top of inevitable change.

“In this day and age where change is the norm and keeping status quo will often make you irrelevant sooner than later, reaching outwards, collaborating within your industry and keeping watch on new and relevant stuff is a must,” says Harandian.

Building your own community

Grugeon says as a sole founder, part of his drive has been about becoming part of a community and getting to know and develop relationships with other people in the same boat. This has had the dual benefit of providing a level of support personally, as well as developing good business relationships.

“In Brisbane where I’m based there is a really good and collaborative startup community that I’ve definitely benefited from being a part of,” he says.

“I don’t love events and networking and I definitely have to give myself a bit of a nudge to do it, but I often find that when I do I enjoy it and find it valuable.”

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