Gone are the days when networking your small business in the local community involved a ‘suburb specific’ listing in the Yellow Pages, an advertisement in the local paper and a prominent outdoor sign at the business address (with a name and phone number only).
Today, there are an increasing number of home based, online and knowledge-based businesses across Australia to ‘compete’ with the big brands. Whilst we have all learned to think globally and act locally, there are many small business owners who chase new clients and customers from all over when they could be sourcing these people within a 10 kilometre radius – but how?
Let’s consider the benefits of networking in your local community:
- It is more environmentally sustainable and economically empowering
- It saves time, energy and money
- You are more likely to gain local referrals, strategic alliances and serendipitous moments
- You will have more time to spend with your family and friends because you aren’t travelling constantly or battling traffic and public transport.
In Australia, there are many local networking opportunities. Local councils across Australia will have an ‘Economic Development’ or ‘Local Business’ strategy and are hosts for various events, activities and initiatives. It could be a networking event, an educational workshop , a mentoring program or a co-working space. As these are usually subsidised financially by ratepayers, they are usually very affordable.
State and Federal governments in Australia are also quite active at providing opportunities for small business owners. It would be best to start here. Make sure you check out your state government websites at:
- Business Victoria
- New South Wales Department of Industry
- Department of State Development of South Australia
- Small business Development Corporation of Western Australia
- Innovate Canberra
- Business Queensland
- Department of Trade, Business and Innovation of Northern Territory
- Business Tasmania
- Your local council websites
Online is still a vital tool and there are a plethora of free directories where you can add your business details. Every small business must have a free brand account on Google. Whilst only 4% of online searchers use Bing, you can also create a free account. The White Pages and Yellow Pages are now offering some free listings with a website address – at a minimum, if you have a landline or a mobile phone, you are entitled to one free listing in at least one category. Also check out generic online directories like True Local, HotFrog and Start Local and take the time to enter your business details.
Review websites are becoming an essential part of networking locally and online. If your business is found online (via an online search or word of mouth referral), potential customers will Google you and check out your Reviews. My number one recommendation for asking your customers to add reviews is Google reviews. Also think about Review websites for your niche such as Zomato for restaurants.
Many industries have their own professional association, trade sites or directories or well-known website portals. For instance, if you are in the retail sector, there are many review websites, discount programs or even apps that allow your business to be found by location. Many are free.
It may seem counter-intuitive to connect with people online or offline who offer similar services to you – but the irony is that both of your profiles will be improved. Take the time to complete your online profiles properly and diary to check them at least every six months. Keep statistics so that you can track how your network is growing and demonstrate to a future buyer of your business that you have plenty of online goodwill.
Start walking in your local area. Observe the changes, stop and chat to other business owners and introduce yourself. If you cannot find a local business network you like, set up your own – these can be easily managed for a small fee on websites like Meet Up. Make a habit of always adding new connections to your LinkedIn profile. Provide referrals to others rather than always expecting others to give them to you.
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