What is business networking and why is it important?

Updated 20 March 2023

Networking is establishing positive relationships with other professionals or potential clients and customers. It's an essential part of growing a business and seeking new opportunities in your career. No matter what industry you work in, growing a strong network can help you progress in your career and boost your professional performance. In this article, we explore what business networking is, describe why it's important and give tips on how to optimise your networking activities to make contacts that are useful to you.

What is business networking?

Business networking is how professionals across an industry or sector build their professional contact lists. It's important to establish rapport with a group of people who can give you support and advice when necessary. Networking can help you build those relationships and meet new people in your industry. A strong network can make you feel more supported, improve the value of the services you offer and enable you to offer your clients the best possible services.

The purpose of networking is to build relationships that are beneficial for your business. There are lots of different ways to network with other professionals in your sector, both online and offline. Seeking networking opportunities by attending events, joining groups and getting to know people within your industry is the best way to grow your network effectively. Networking isn't completely necessary to progress in your career, but it can help you progress more quickly and efficiently.

Why is networking important?

Business networking is important because it can help professionals and executives to increase sales, recruit talent or even make new friends. Networking can also help you find new job opportunities and make it more likely that you secure a senior role because of your positive reputation within the industry. It can help you meet new clients and draw customers towards your organisation. Some benefits of networking include:

  • You can gain access to new potential customers via your network.

  • Networking can help you find promising employees who share your values.

  • It can give you access to suppliers and vendors who offer products and services that your organisation requires.

  • A strong network of stakeholders can boost the success and growth of an organisation.

  • You can learn from colleagues with more experience in your industry.

  • Contacts in your network may make you aware of new job openings.

  • You can build a positive reputation and personal brand via your network.

  • Networking can help you find investors for new projects and start-ups.

Related: Benefits of mentoring for mentors mentees, and organisations

Types of networking

There are several types of networking. Taking part in different networking opportunities helps to grow a balanced list of contacts within your industry and your region. Different networking events are more likely to introduce you to different people. Here are some examples of networking options:

Business seminars and events

Attending business seminars, conferences and other industry events is an effective way to develop your professional skills, keep your industry knowledge contemporary and meet other people in your field. You get plenty of opportunities to talk to other people at these events, and you can swap contact details or business cards with people that you want to stay in touch with. Some of the most popular types of business seminars and events include:

  • Trade shows: These are events where businesses gather at a convention centre or hotel to exhibit their products and services. Trade show organisers often provide educational programming as well so that attendees can learn more about getting into their industry or niche market and become better salespeople.

  • Networking events: These are events which businesses host all over the world to offer professionals the chance to promote themselves and meet potential partners and customers. These can take the form of drinks in a pub, meals out or private events in hotels and conference centres.

  • Conferences: These are events that usually focus on building knowledge and developing skills within a particular field. Most conferences offer plenty of opportunities to get to know other attendees while you build your skills.

Related: 10 key concepts that help you understand networking basics

Online networking groups

Online networking groups can help you make connections with people in your industry from all around the world. You can join an online networking group specific to your industry on social media platforms and networks. These might take the form of groups or pages where you can take part in discussions, learn new skills and make new contacts. Being part of an online networking group means being part of a digital community that's more accessible on short notice. The more you take part and engage with posts and discussions, the more benefits you can realise from groups like this.

Professional associations

A professional association is an organisation made up of like-minded professionals from a single industry or discipline. The primary purposes of professional associations are mutual support and information sharing, although they also seek to promote their profession and advocate for their members. In some sectors, professional associations are very active and regularly host networking events and educational opportunities for their members. Becoming a member of a professional association means that you can often attend these events for free, where you can connect with others and stay up to date with industry news and developments.

Tips for successful networking in business

If you're intending to attend networking events at conference centres, pubs or trade halls, prepare yourself in advance to ensure you can get the most out of each event. Follow the tips below to maximise your success when attending networking events and meetings:

Attend events regularly

The most effective way to build strong business connections is by attending events regularly. This gives you the opportunity to meet the same people on a semi-regular basis, which can help you form a deeper bond with your contacts. Attending networking events regularly also means benefiting from more opportunities to meet new people and hear about new opportunities.

Do your research

Before you go to a business event, do some research on the organisations in attendance and the people who are likely to attend. This helps you decide if it's worth going or not and makes it easier to approach people at the event. You can also check your social media pages to see if anyone you know online has expressed an interest in attending the event.

Come prepared

Alongside researching the event and its attendees, it's important to prepare for networking events in advance. Print out up-to-date business cards to hand out to people you meet at the event and make sure your phone is fully charged so that you can add people's contact details throughout the day. Business cards are an effective and convenient way to give someone your contact details in a busy environment.

Look for like-minded people

Focus your efforts at networking events on meeting people who share your values and priorities. These people are more likely to be suitable colleagues or partners for you and your organisation. It's also fruitful to look for people who value team working, collaboration and community, as these people may be more likely to reach out to you at a later date.

Be confident

Confidence can attract people when you're attending networking events. This presents a capable, professional image and ensures that other people pay attention when you speak. Speak up about yourself and your organisation and take an active role in discussions and conversations. Confidence makes you more memorable to other event attendees and makes you more likely to stand out. When someone approaches you, make sure that, alongside telling them about your own work, you're also friendly and ask lots of questions about their work.

Related: How to introduce two people over email and build a network

Focus on your goals

Before you attend a networking event, consider what your goals for the event are. Consider if you want to swap contacts with people in a particular field or promote a business or your personal brand. Keeping your objectives in mind during each networking event can help you fulfil these goals more efficiently when you're networking.

Use your time wisely

You might feel surprised at how quickly time passes at a conference or networking event. Ensure that you spend your time at these events getting to know lots of different people rather than talking to just one person. If someone asks you to swap contact information, give them your contact details and follow up with a brief message within 24 hours to solidify your new relationship. Take full advantage of every networking event you attend.

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