Being part of a professional or local network should be a no-brainer for SMEs. However, the time cost can often feel prohibitive. We’ve taken inspiration from the city region’s musical heritage to compile a list of why you need to get yourself out there if your business is to hit the right note.
Help with your business
No matter what your biggest issues are, six bucks and my right arm (to sanitise a classic line from John Candy in 1980s comedy masterpiece Planes, Trains and Automobiles) says there are other local businesses that have been through similar challenges.
Call it a cliché, but a problem shared really is a problem halved. To be able to directly access other SME leaders with first-hand knowledge of what you’re facing is a unique opportunity. There are solutions or improvements out there, and being part of the right network makes it much easier to find them.
The more specialist the network, the more likely there’ll be a member who can speak from personal experience and share knowledge and ideas.
According to research carried out by AXA in 2022, 48% of SME owners in the UK feel they have “nobody to confide in” about their business challenges. While large firms have a readymade pool of colleagues to talk to, SMEs often lack this support network.
The same study found that 58% of SME owners “feel lonely at work at least some of the time”, with more than one in five experiencing loneliness at work “most or all of the time”.
Running a business is challenging. We all know that, yet it doesn’t stop us from being hard on ourselves. It can be wonderfully liberating to meet other leaders and be reminded that you’re not the only one who doesn’t have all the answers or suffering from imposter syndrome. Far from it, in fact.
Find critical friends
‘Surround yourself with the right people’. Sage advice that’s repeated by self-improvement gurus, executive coaches, Noel Gallagher (yes) and any number of daily inspiration tweets.
Networks offer a great chance to find critical friends: people external to your business who can offer encouragement, provide the opportunity to bounce ideas around, and, when it’s needed, give you honest, unfettered feedback.
A source of new ideas
One of the most common observations on the value of networks we receive from SMEs is their role as a source of new ideas. Time spent listening to other perspectives is always well-spent. There’s usually at least one nugget of information to take away, and chances are you’ll find helpful things you hadn’t thought of before.
Whether the subject matter is related to a sector-specific technical issue or something more general like managing staff, more efficient admin or handling conversations with difficult clients, networks are a valuable means of learning from the mistakes and solutions of others.
Benchmarking your business
What are others doing that we should be doing? What are we doing that others aren’t?
You’ll be able to find the answers by engaging with similar businesses, gaining valuable insight into best practices and processes to enable your business to continuously improve, thrive, innovate and grow.
Who doesn’t like being able to help someone in need? Just as you can gain from the stories you hear from peers, you’ll be well-positioned to give that lightbulb moment to those needing guidance, which can be incredibly rewarding. Warm, fuzzy feelings aside, offering transparent advice (and nobody’s talking about revealing your trade secrets to competitors, by the way), making introductions and sharing lessons learnt also puts something in the bank to call on favours when you need them.
Networks can open new collaborative horizons. That could mean finding new opportunities or establishing an arrangement to submit joint bids for contracts they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to tender for, cooperating to address challenges, or working together for a common advantage in some other way.
“They would never have known about us, and we wouldn’t ever have known about them – now we’re working together,” is the sort of line we’ve heard countless times from small and medium-sized businesses who’ve created the time to join a network.
Improve own profile
Being seen as someone knowledgeable and helpful in your business area enhances your reputation as an innovator and, by extension, gets your SME’s name out there. Showcase yourself and your business.
With thanks to The Smiths, Oasis, Happy Mondays, James, The Stone Roses, New Order and Buzzcocks.