- Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, networking remains as important as ever – businesses must simply adapt to more digital channels
- These five simple steps will give your business a clear plan to maximise networking effectiveness
- UOB is serving business clients during these times with our range of SME-tailored solutions
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and related containment efforts, most face-to-face networking has come to a temporary halt. For instance, Malaysia’s premier SME networking conference, organised annually by the government-owned SME Corp and last held in October 20191, is unlikely to happen this year. But this does not mean SMEs should stop their networking efforts. In fact, networking may be more important than ever right now.
The benefits of networking for SMEs – such as getting to know potential clients, suppliers and partners, and learning from others’ experiences and mistakes – are simply too great to stop networking entirely. Instead, owners must adapt by using digital channels and establishing a plan that will allow them to continue building their network.
Here are five steps SMEs can use to build a powerful business network.
Step 1 – Identify who you want in your network
To be effective, networking must be targeted. So, start by narrowing down your options and identifying who you want in your network. The ‘who’ in this case refers to specific communities, such as marketing directors, SME owners or purchasing managers at large corporates.
This decision, of course, will vary depending on an individual SME’s business goals. For instance, if the goal is a potential business partnership, then a network full of SME owners within the same industry might be appropriate. But if the goal is prospecting for clients, a different network would be better.
The important point is to ensure the selection of a target group before beginning any networking efforts.
Step 2 – Determine the highest-impact networking channels
Now that you have identified the specific communities you want to target, it’s time to determine which networking channels will be most effective in reaching them. In the COVID-19 era, they will likely be almost entirely – or, at the very least, heavily biased towards – digital.
Social media platforms such as LinkedIn are powerful marketing tools, with LinkedIn’s Groups feature a great way to find networks relevant to your industry and interests. For example, the general ‘Malaysian Business Network’ group has over 6,000 members. But you can also easily find more specialised networks, such as the ‘Malaysian Construction Professionals’ group and a group for the ‘Malaysian Institution of Engineers’. Companies in this industry or those looking to find specific professionals to join their team, for instance, would find these useful.
Step 3 – Understand how you will add value
How can your SME add value to its network? Could you freely share industry experience and expertise, engage in mentorship or actively refer clients to other companies within your network? Whatever you decide, make sure that offering value is always front-of-mind.
Step 4 – Solidify relationships by following up
Put in the work to nurture key relationships with members of your network. This might involve more frequent online conversations and meetups, following up with personalised notes and making the extra effort to help them in their own business aspirations. Because this is impossible to achieve with every member of a particular network, it’s important to carefully select the best people and be deliberate in your actions.
Step 5 – Confidently ask for help
If you have followed the first four steps and are consistently offering value to your network, you can expect opportunities to arise organically. Think of it as inbound marketing.
However, that alone may not be enough. You will often have to use outbound marketing tactics and directly ask for help from your network. If you have already built up enough social capital by first adding value for them, you will likely find they will be more than happy to return the favour.
Failing to plan is planning to fail
Networking is only effective when it generates results. Too often, SMEs fail to see a return on their networking investment because they don’t have a clear strategy to get the most out of their activities. To make your life easier and your networking more valuable, you can use these five steps as the basis of your strategy. Use them as your guide and you will have a much better chance of seeing positive returns from your network.
At UOB we are committed to helping our SME clients navigate these challenging times – not just through our tailored products and services, but by providing you with useful information and strategies for the future. Call us to find out how we can help your business thrive.