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Networking 101: Powering up with business relationships

As the business world becomes increasingly competitive, building strong relationships with other businesses and industry professionals has become essential for achieving success.

Networking is a powerful tool that can help entrepreneurs and professionals alike grow their businesses, find new opportunities, and gain access to valuable resources.

Whether you’re just starting out in your career or looking to expand your network, learning the art of networking can help you power up your career and achieve your goals. Networking involves more than just exchanging business cards or making small talk — it requires a genuine interest in building strong connections with others and a willingness to invest time and effort in nurturing those relationships.

In this week’s edition of Let’s Talk, our experts delve into the topic of networking, sharing some valuable tips and strategies for building strong business relationships and networking effectively. From identifying networking opportunities to making a memorable first impression, our experts offer insights that can help you master the art of networking and take your career or business to the next level.

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Fergus Dunn, Regional Executive, Bentley Systems

Fergus Dunn
Fergus Dunn, Regional Executive, Bentley Systems

“Developing a network for your business can be challenging, especially as you are confronted with time constraints and limited resources. Luckily, Australian businesses are now more connected than before due to a number of online platforms which allow business owners to be a part of communities and network with industry professionals and other businesses.

“A good starting point is to explore online platforms such as LinkedIn, which give you access to key opinion leaders in the industry but also specific industry associations. These groups are valuable not only in terms of networking, but also providing support and guidance to new businesses.

“Another avenue to explore is events. While sponsorship packages can often be at the higher end of the price spectrum, you can find tiered exhibition packages. Once there, it’s imperative to draw in an audience with engaging tactics. These events, while often designed for lead generation purposes, are also platforms to connect with other businesses from the same sector. They also are great ways to learn about collaboration opportunities, which otherwise would be hard to find.

“Networking with the right people can open up a host of possibilities, whether it is related to referrals, collaborations or access to information. By being proactive, you can find the right connections.”

Kim Wainwright, CEO of Xplore Resources, Chair of the Queensland Exploration Council

Kim Wainwright
Kim Wainwright, CEO of Xplore Resources, Chair of the Queensland Exploration Council

“Building relationships is crucial for small businesses as this can lead to collaborations, partnerships, referrals and valuable industry insights as well as personal and professional growth.

“When I founded Xplore Resources, to supply professional services to the Australian mining sector, it was important to me to go beyond actively participating and networking within the industry – I wanted to go that step further and help shape the sector.

“Attending events and joining industry associations can provide access to a network of businesses and professionals. For me, chairing the Queensland Exploration Council is an important way to support the resources sector and have my say about its future.

“Social media platforms can be powerful tools for building relationships with other businesses and professionals. Follow and engage with relevant businesses, industry influencers and thought leaders to establish connections and start conversations.

“Crucially, ensure you offer value through collaborations: step up and collaborate on a project, host an event or webinar, or cross-promote products or services within your network. Collaboration can create win-win situations and foster long-term relationships.

“Finally, be a connector. If you have positive experiences with other businesses or individuals, provide testimonials and recommendations. This helps build goodwill and establish positive relationships.”

Stephen Roebuck, Associate Director, Advice and Consultancy, Employsure

Stephen Roebuck
Stephen Roebuck, Associate Director, Advice and Consultancy, Employsure

“Being a small business is mostly about building and maintaining relationships. A few key pointers to note when it comes to building relationships with other SMEs:

  • Firstly, collaborating on projects with other businesses and professionals can be a great way to build relationships. This could involve working together on a joint marketing campaign, a product development project, or a community initiative.
  • Secondly, hosting events such as workshops, seminars, or networking events can help small businesses establish themselves as thought leaders in their industry and connect with other businesses and like-minded professionals.
  • Thirdly, social media platforms, predominantly LinkedIn can be a great way to connect with other businesses and industry professionals. The key is to follow and engage with industry leaders and participate in industry-specific conversations and share valuable content.
  • Lastly, offer value to other businesses and professionals by sharing your knowledge and expertise. This could involve providing free resources such as case studies, guides or offer your services at a discounted rate.”

Sharon Crombie, CEO and Founder, MicroChilli

Sharon Crombie
Sharon Crombie, CEO and Founder, MicroChilli

“A thought leadership-led approach is a really effective way to add genuine value here, and there are many avenues to take. This can include sharing insights with media outlets, creating dedicated, advice-led resources for your audience to access for free, curating and delivering speaker sessions at events, and attending them too.

“Event attendance, along with joining those associations and communities that are relevant to you and your goals, is an effective way to meet and network with others face-to-face, which is a must for meaningful relationship building – especially following the pandemic, when virtual was the only way we could all connect.

“A key tip here: aim to uncover the challenges those who you’re looking to engage with face, and where they ‘hang out.’ Here at MicroChilli, for example, we primarily service the sectors of creatives and healthcare, so have taken the time to understand what these audiences read and watch, the events they attend, and those communities they are members of, and tailor our relationship building and thought leadership strategy accordingly.”

Rick Pantas, Strategic Partnerships Manager, Megantic

Rick Pantas
Rick Pantas, Strategic Partnerships Manager, Megantic

“While business has rapidly adapted and evolved to a digital playground over the past few years, the human element is still significant. Making an active effort to understand your new business/industry partner will dictate the success of your relationship.

“Before you approach any potential partner, it's always important to ask yourself, “In a perfect world, what will THEY gain from working with me?” Placing the needs and goals of your partner front of mind will naturally come across when you start a dialogue with them, leading to a strong foundation for whatever follows. This is also a nice way to take a step back and evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of an industry connection. As a business owner, it’s preferable when someone comes to you with a solution rather than a request.

“Ultimately, a positive and mutually beneficial relationship must be built on honesty and transparency. There is no need to hide from the fact that you are reaching out to grow your own business. Other businesses and industry partners are doing the exact same thing, so embrace the journey of success together.”

Hayley Westoby, Founder and Director, Gambit Collective

Hayley Westoby
Hayley Westoby, Founder and Director, Gambit Collective

“Small businesses shouldn’t have to feel like the kid in the corner at a school dance when it comes to building relationships with other businesses and industry professionals.

“I fundamentally believe that networking in person plays a crucial role in relationship development for businesses and individuals, but as a small business owner, I know and can appreciate it’s not always possible to attend every event or spend days meeting and networking with people.

“Fear not, as there are other ways to build relationships with other businesses and industry professionals.

“LinkedIn is an excellent yet often overlooked resource that everyone can take advantage of. It serves as a digital gathering spot for professionals seeking to establish connections and so many people aren’t using it to its full potential. By consistently showcasing your personality, expertise and sharing relevant content on LinkedIn you can attract potential contacts, new business leads, new team members as well as demonstrating your thought leadership on certain topics or key themes (remember you can only be a thought leader if you have and consistently share your thoughts).

“Another great way to build relationships with other businesses and industry professionals is to work from a co-working space. The team at Gambit Collective work out of our office, which is located at the Commons on George Street, Sydney. As a small team, surrounding ourselves with so many other individuals and businesses, breeds conversations, partnerships and relationships.

“There’s no arguing that building relationships with other businesses and industry professionals increases your visibility and credibility in the industry, so, let this be your reminder to not be the wallflower in the business world. Get out there, shake some hands, turn up and be consistent on LinkedIn and ensure your environment breeds connectivity and doesn’t further isolate you, your team or your business. And who knows, you might just make some lifelong connections or friendships and future partnerships along the way.”

Winston Su, Founder, Noonie Australia

Winston Su
Winston Su, Founder, Noonie Australia

“Being in the maternity and postpartum care industry where we invent and develop our products, it is vital to sustain as many relationships with adjoining businesses as possible. Building trust is key so we always try to prioritise ways to create or add value for whoever we work with to establish that trust. Sometimes it’s hard as a small business since we are mostly concerned with the value we derive from other businesses and partners. That is why it is important to prioritise and map out the value we are able to provide to others at the beginning. Quite often we have to get creative and think laterally to achieve this. When we do this exercise, we find that we get to know the other businesses and industry professionals quite deeply and that invariably strengthens the connections.

“Today, we are in a position where a number of industry professionals call on us for help on a whole range of issues, including the ones unrelated to our core business. Noonie’s new GM and co-owner Elodie Orliac always reminds the team that evaluating our relationships with businesses prematurely is the surest way to deprive everyone of sustainable benefits.”

Brodie Haupt, CEO and Co-founder, WLTH

Brodie Haupt
Brodie Haupt, CEO and Co-founder, WLTH

“In today’s interconnected business landscape, building a strong network is essential for small businesses. Networking helps companies foster mutually beneficial relationships with other businesses and industry professionals, driving growth and success. There are many ways businesses can foster these connections.

“Participation in industry events and conferences can help small businesses meet like-minded professionals and potential partners. These events provide an opportunity to share ideas, learn from others, and establish connections. Make the most of these opportunities by actively engaging in conversations, asking questions, and exchanging business cards or contact information.

“Seeking collaborative projects and partnerships with other businesses can also expand your network. By working together on joint ventures, businesses can combine their resources and expertise to achieve common goals – this can also lead to referrals. For WLTH, our partnerships with Parley for the Oceans and the Australia SailGP team have been mutually beneficial in expanding our reach and fostering our sustainability and conservation goals.

“While it’s essential to build new connections, it’s equally important to maintain existing relationships. Regularly check in with contacts, share updates on business developments, and stay informed about their accomplishments. Continued engagement will help keep relationships strong and facilitate future collaboration opportunities.”

Julissa Shrewsbury, Brand Culture Advisor, Team and Personal Branding Specialist, Director of New Work Consulting

Julissa Shrewsbury
Julissa Shrewsbury, Brand Culture Advisor, Team and Personal Branding Specialist, Director of New Work Consulting

“When you run a business, especially (but not exclusively) if it is services-based, the quality of your relationships will determine much of the success of your business. Even in the online age, people still do business with people, and we need each other to succeed.

“So many business owners focus almost exclusively on their online presence, to the detriment of good-old-fashioned relationship-building. But you need both quality marketing and quality sales conversations to build a strong business. When it comes to sales, it’s rarely helpful these days to use cold-calling and heavy-handed sales techniques… times have changed, people make strong values-driven decisions, and trust comes first.

“Building trust with potential clients, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders in your business requires bringing consistency and intention to how you build business relationships. Having a win-win approach means thinking about what the other person needs in any exchange and communicating from that place – with a genuine wish to serve the other and add value at every interaction. This is as much about attitude as it is about technique, but business owners can develop a culture around serving others, to help their staff develop a strong approach to building business relationships.”

Ben Lucas, Director of Flow Athletic

Ben Lucas
Ben Lucas, Director of Flow Athletic

“The big thing when building a relationship with other businesses, is to open with an idea or concept that will benefit both of you. In my case, I have a fitness studio in Paddington so I often try to collaborate with local businesses so that we can drive traffic to each other. For example, we have a local salad and juice cafe that offers members and staff a discount and visa versa, we have a local recovery centre that does the same, we will also often include them if we are hosting any media or consumer events in our studio etc.

“The best way to build a relationship with others is to ensure that you are thinking about their needs and their benefit for being in the relationship, as much as you are thinking of your own.”

Tom Adam, Founder and CEO, curiousGrowth

Tom Adam
Tom Adam, Founder and CEO, curiousGrowth

“The word ‘networking’ makes most small business owners skin crawl – mine too. While there are many benefits to it, many feel that they’re being sold to rather than heard. A strategy we’ve deployed that helps my two businesses, as well as my neighbouring businesses, is to look into business collaborations. Presenting another non-competing business’ offering to your client’s, by way of a special offer that is uniquely delivered to your clients, ads value for everyone involved. e.g. We offer a free trial at our Martial Arts club to anyone who’s purchased a car or signed a lease at nearby Car Yard and Realter. Also, being part of local trader groups, and chambers of commerce, may seem like a ‘waste of time’ but you never know what you’ll learn from your neighbours and the professionals you’ll be introduced to.

“But, one thing that is the most important of all – be passionate in learning about the businesses and (if they allow it) the personal lives of your connections. I’ve found by getting to know people, and not ‘selling’ my service that I’m regarded as a ‘go-to’ contact in the community when people need help – which is exactly what I do.”

Nikki Weaver, Brand Strategist and Author, Brand Artisans Australia

Nikki Weaver
Nikki Weaver, Brand Strategist and Author, Brand Artisans Australia

“Building solid working relationships is the most beneficial thing you can do for your business. Referrals and word of mouth have a much greater impact than any marketing campaign ever could.

“So how do you get out there and make genuine connections with other businesses and industry professionals? Here are my top tips:

  1. Attend industry events: This one is a no-brainer. The more you get out there, the more people you meet and the more potential relationships you can build. Trade shows, conferences, and networking events are all great opportunities to establish relationships.
  2. Join industry associations and groups: Again… Networking. These groups often hold meetings, workshops, and other events where members can connect and collaborate.
  3. Social media: A caveat on this one not to spam people! Use it as a tool for building relationships rather than making a sale. Share valuable content, engage with others, and participate in industry discussions.
  4. Collaborate: Partner with other businesses on projects or initiatives to build trust and reach a larger audience.
  5. Offer value: Share your expertise, provide helpful resources or tools, and offer support and assistance, to build trust and establish yourself as a valuable partner.”

Avi Efrat, Owner and Founder, Fantastic Framing

Avi Efrat
Avi Efrat, Owner and Founder, Fantastic Framing

“Leveraging social media to generate co-branded promotions is an affordable and easy way to connect with industry professionals and like-minded businesses.

“While building a social presence does take time and lots of effort, it doesn’t mean a co-branded promotion or giveaway needs to be the same. Small businesses can connect with other businesses and create digital promotions, discounts, or giveaways that include services and products of adjacent brands.

“This tactic can help a small business grow their social following, increase general awareness, and even potentially get more clicks to their website which could potentially mean an increase in sales.”

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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