Lord Sugar caused uproar (I think he may enjoy this) again the other day by suggesting that SME’s should stop attending networking groups and seminars and make their own decisions regarding their businesses.
He has been castigated by many regarding this and I’ll attempt to throw in my twopenorth..
There may be a message in there somewhere about taking responsibility for your own decisions in business but he misses the point on so many other levels.
Andy Lopata www.lopata.co.uk someone who I respect very highly for his views on this subject, rightly said that not networking essentially encourages people to hide behind the walls of their premises and not come out to speak to others for advice or help. Andy pointed out that this could be very dangerous.
I think Lord Sugar may also be trying to say that small business owners must be tough and be able to stand on their own two feet. That is a reasonable point but there are thousands of very talented SME owners and sole traders who aren’t born, brought up, moulded or beaten into the shape of mini Lord Sugars. They nevertheless provide superb services and inject ideas and innovations into our country and economy.
Some of these people are very intelligent but not great communicators, others superb communicators but lacking the technical skills required to construct a website for instance that will attract business. Some have a great idea and passion and expertise in their field but need help with the financial side of their business.
I think Lord Sugar fails to appreciate that the landscape of the small business market in this country (and the world!) has changed.
But for some of these businesses, networking can put them in contact with the service providers, mentors, and advice streams that can help their business. In a sense a person working from a home office can surround themselves with an expert outsourced team ( accountant, marketeer, web designer, IT support etc) that can help them function and allow them to get on with what they are good at.
These meetings allow people to meet and then progress business relationships through the trust of time. As they chat,they can also pick up little gems of advice that they can use , giving themselves that extra 1% here and there, that will make their business better.
There’s the chance to talk to other people whose opinion you learn to value and they can recommend service providers who they feel can help your business best. They will in the right circumstances also recommend you to others which helps to build your client base. This doesn’t happen over night, it can be a slow burner but if you are good at what you do and people hear you are good, the work will start coming in and then others should start to refer on a more regular basis.
I have heard a few people deride networking groups and this I think can be because they don’t understand them or how to use the groups. The best advice would be just to be yourself and get to know people gradually. Choose the right groups initially that will put you in front of the right people for you and your business. There are people more qualified than me who could advise you on building a strategy for networking. Try looking at www.lopata.co.uk or www.beyondnetworking.co.uk for more detailed advice.
But also everyone in business is and always has been networking (yes even in the 1960’s Lord Sugar and way, way before then). It could be someone from your sports club, the pub a friend from school (we’ve all heard of the old boys network and jobs for the boys) so what he is saying is not really true. Some of the best networker’s I know never go to a networking event like the one’s we are discussing here but they have strong networks and know what they are doing to get business.
But if you don’t move in these circles you need to make an effort to create networks and if you attend the right network meetings this is the best way to do it. It can be essential for many businesses but especially if you are a start up company or new to an area.
For these type of businesses to miss out on the help, advice, friendship and potential business from group members and their list of contacts would be sad and potentially very damaging to their business growth.
They do not take too much time out of people’s working day either. Many are early mornings or held after office hours. It is a common sight to see people rushing to their cars after a breakfast meeting to get into the office for 9am. To suggest people are standing around trying not to work is a myth. There are always exceptions to the rule and also people who really don’t get as much as they could from these meetings in terms of connections, leads and business, but that is another thing altogether. This is because they aren’t doing the right things not that networking is a waste of time in itself.
Maybe some of the larger networking groups should invite Lord Sugar along to one of their meetings to show him the stream of business that is being created back it up with figures.
Perhaps Lord Sugar has been at the top of his tree for so long that he believes the contacts that are now handed to him on a plate are given to everybody down the food chain so readily.Some of us still have to work on establishing them.
As for seminars, a lot of smaller firms may have to do a lot of their marketing etc themselves. They may be pretty good at this but just need to keep topping up their ideas and technical skills.
Therefore if you attend a half day seminar where you pick up a tip that is then put into practice and can be measured later to show the positive results then surely that is time well spent.
Again Lord Sugar has a point that if you just go to loads of these type of events and just listen and write but don’t use the skills learnt in a practical way then, of course, it is a waste of time.
I always think that when I hear one of these talks or attend a workshop that I will hear a lot of the same stuff, put in a different way. But if the message is put across in a new way then it may just click. Also if I hear one or two gems that I have not heard before and that I go away and implement them then that is by no means a waste of time.
As an after thought, I wonder how Lord Sugar will feel if the next time he does a speech no one turns up because everyone is taking his advice and are working away on their businesses. But of course it wouldnt be waste of time to listen to his pearls of wisdom !
I began networking in 2006 and am by no means an expert. I started off with no idea what I was getting into but just a desire to make more contacts and to generate more work for my company. I have developed a huge database of contacts, made friends, gained business, helped others to gain business and taken on service providers that I have gradually got to know personally. I have been recommended by other people and firms that have grown to know me and how our company works. This is not to mention all the free advice and help that I have received from chatting and listening to others who are very knowledgeable in their fields. It is also good fun once you get into it.
So I may not be a Lord but if you want my advice don’t avoid networking embrace it. Done in the right way at the right place for you, it can become a vital part of your business strategy.