Poet John Donne once wrote:

“No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.”

While he perhaps was not speaking in terms of building a business, the general gist of the message still rings true… No small business owner can expect to succeed – or even survive! – in isolation. You must become an active part of the whole.

Seeing the Bigger Picture

In business, the ‘main’ can be seen most obviously from a vantage point within an environment that incorporates a wide variety of other business people all in one place at one time… such as at a networking event.

Networking events are designed to build bridges between business ‘islands,’ connecting them to become a larger system, effectively allowing for engagement and mutual growth. They can essentially become a pool of resources that you can tap into to gain more information, understanding and contacts.

How should you best navigate these opportunities in order to establish long term relationships and partnerships? Well, taking our own advice, we gleaned some key insights from our network to share with you:

Top Tips from the Pros

  • You must give, in order to gain “It’s important to build some social capital with the people in your network before you start asking for favors. Seeking help from people before you’ve given anything is a little like trying to get a withdrawal from your banking account without having put anything in first,” advised Ivan Misner, founder and chief visionary officer of BNI, a professional business networking organization headquartered in Charlotte, N.C. As Misner says, you may just find that once you have invested into your personal network, “There’s nothing more powerful than having a room full of people who are ready and willing to help you succeed.”
  • Be honest and direct When networking, you will meet lots of different people coming from a wide range of experiences and expectations. Discovering who will be a good fit to partner with to help grow your business is no easy task, especially if you (or those around you!) are only saying what is expected… even if it’s not exactly true.
  • “Everyone has to be clear and up front about values, intentions, and goals. If your values are not aligned with those of the person you’re trying to do business with, trouble is unavoidable,” shared Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman, authors of the book, Words Can Change Your Brain. Set the standard of consistency, openness, and trustworthiness in your communications with your network, and then seek to identify those traits in others.
  • Think Long Term Although you many not feel as though you’re seeing instant results from your networking efforts, play for the long-game. Businesses don’t make decisions – people do. This is why your professional network is so important. “Connections open doors, but relationships close deals,” quoted Ricardo Alvarez-Diaz, the founder and principal of the architectural firm Alvarez-Diaz & Villalon. These relationships may take some time to build, deepen and strengthen. Be intentional about staying in touch with people you like and with whom you can see true business building potential. They will not be making any referrals to you if they can’t recall your name or the name of your business. Respectfully stay on the top of their mind by cultivating the relationship over time.

Worth the Reach Out

If every small business owner was an island, there would be no need to network. We would have no need for each other. But that is just not the case!

“Successful small business owners know they only got to where they are now because of the people who helped them along the way,” said Nicole Fallon, Managing Editor of Business News Daily. “A strong professional network can help you achieve things that you’d never accomplish on your own, from solutions to seemingly impossible problems, to word-of-mouth recommendations that grow your customer base.”

If you feel as though you are doing trying to do business as an island, it is worth it to reach across the waters to connect with others. Consider finding a centralized meeting space and hosting a small business networking event, or attending the next one you are invited to!

If you are a mobile or home-based small business owner, consider the opportunity to work around others like you in a co-working space that allows you to engage with others, share ideas and connect! However you choose to reach out and engage with the ‘main,’ Huntsville Hub is here to help. Make Huntsville Hub your first call for more information and next steps!