Pick up any book for entrepreneurs and you’re bound to find a chapter on networking. It’s no secret networking is a vital force for small businesses, and it’s often handled with more gusto in the early years of business development. Referrals flow in, potholes are avoided thanks to key learnings from others, and we make connections that often stay with us throughout our careers.
But as entrepreneurs juggle wearing many hats, putting effort into business connections often falls by the wayside.
There’s a commonly overlooked opportunity to continue nurturing these early relationships into meaningful communities that help small businesses scale and grow through pooled knowledge, resources, insights and data previously exclusive to larger companies. This is the “missing chapter” on why entrepreneurs should prioritize developing and maintaining business relationships from the conception of their small business through the later stages of growth and expansion:
- Learn best practices, from common business/cash flow needs to navigating unforeseen challenges, which could include social, political and economic factors. By keeping your network connections strong, you’ll continually meet likeminded professionals and uncover new advice and ideas. Implementing the processes with which your peers are already experiencing success can introduce improvements to your operations and strategy, including marketing, customer lifecycle management, manufacturing, finance and more.
- Team up to purchase and share physical resources (like tools or equipment) to create major savings. For things you’ll only use a few times a year, this practice can significantly reduce capital expenditures and spread out storage and maintenance costs. Think about pooling resources for items such as vehicles, specialty printers and presentation equipment.
- Gather industry-specific data for smart decision making. By looking at an aggregate of SMB-specific data, such as spending trends, SMBs can leverage accurate and actionable insights to make informed decisions. In my job at SAP Concur, I help SMBs with the tools and insight they need to better manage cashflow. For example, compared to 10 years ago, we’re seeing rideshare as a significant new source of spend, along with employees who are increasingly opting for vacation-home rentals over hotels. Examining these types of trends can help you develop an effective transportation management strategy or more wisely choose your next location for physical expansion.
- Coordinate partnerships to benefit your business and give back to your surrounding communities and organizations. Corporate philanthropy can certainly be impactful flying solo as a company, but joining forces with other SMBs can strengthen outputs, allowing you to double down on results while sharing potential costs. Plus, engaging in philanthropic efforts benefit your corporate culture by fostering loyalty and commitment. It’s no surprise employees involved in their company’s volunteer program are 28 percent more likely to be proud of their company’s values and 36 percent more likely to feel stronger company loyalty. In fact, a 2016 survey shows that 75% of millennials would even be willing to take a pay-cut to work for a values-driven company, further underscoring that doing good is good business.
I encourage you to start thinking about networking as a required task; it’s a standard part of being a successful small-business owner. Not only can it help you develop a vital support system, but networking can offer boundless opportunities for learning, development, and growth. On the flipside, you might be able to offer the precise advice your peers need. So, get out there and start talking. You just may meet the connection you didn’t even know you needed.
Ben Brewer is Senior Vice President and General Manager of the global Small to Medium-sized Business (SMB) division at SAP Concur, one of the world’s largest providers of integrated travel, expense, and invoice management solutions. In this role, Ben leads a sales organization of nearly 1,000 employees throughout North America, EMEA, and APAC.