Business networks can benefit from business support services by sharing common issues and solutions and in this article we look at how an SME business network supported by an IT service provider can help reduce costs and share mutual interests.
We also explore how networking across sectors helps expand your knowledge base and improve your understanding of common issues, bringing with it better solutions.
What is a network?
A network in this sense is a community of small businesses and individuals who come together and meet, either physically or in a virtual setting, with the aim of sharing their knowledge and growing their business.
As with any community, you have to put in as well as take out, and everyone in business has something to offer. If you have expertise in a particular field, offering advice to others who need it not only puts you in good stead for when you need support, but it also promotes your business.
Building relationships rather than selling your services is really what networking is all about. There is nothing more annoying than connecting with someone and immediately they launch into a sales patter and want to know how they can serve you. It takes time to build that relationship and by doing so you don’t have to ask, it will either come naturally or not at all.
Growing your network face-to-face is a slow process but it can reap benefits in the long run. A much faster way of networking is through online communities.
Help in the community
Communities may already exist and it is just a matter of joining them. You can find these by joining your local Chamber of Commerce, or other business support groups. Trade organisations can also provide help on specific issues associated with your line of work.
Anyone can start an SME business network and this is a good way of showcasing your talents, but this does take time and effort which may be better placed elsewhere.
If you want to pay to join a community, the Federation of Small Businesses offers members a wide range of business support services including advice and support on many issues from legal protection to debt recovery. They also host virtual networking events, which are local but may be of interest. There is an annual fee starting at £149 for a sole trader to £449 for up to 50 employees, with a £30 joining fee.
How networks help a business grow
Growth can be achieved organically or by partnering on a particular project, and the benefits of joining a community may not be immediate. It takes time to know who to trust, whose opinion you favour the most but eventually you will find people who you feel you can work with.
There is a lot to be gained by mixing with entrepreneurs from different sectors – the cross-fertilization of ideas often brings different solutions to age-old problems. If you make a product you may be an expert in the manufacturing process but lack knowledge on imports and exports and this is where a network can help.
The role of social media
Social media is a prime example of how one person can start a group and build it up by providing content initially and reaching out to others with similar interests. LinkedIn has thousands of groups already set up, often run by trade organisations but a lot of individuals and SMEs are running large groups that have grown from a single post.
You can also set up a group on Facebook and open it up to the public as a way of promoting your business whilst at the same time sharing knowledge with like-minded businesses.
How can an IT support service help?
IT support services work across all sectors – accountancy, business management, creative arts and design, engineering and manufacturing, and more. Although these sectors are diverse in nature, they all have one thing in common – they need help with IT.
This may be help setting up a website, providing cloud backup services, advice on how to prevent cyber attacks, developing a disaster recovery plan or a complete managed service.
A single IT service provider can support a whole SME business network and by sharing the cost, this makes it affordable to those on a tight budget who are just as vulnerable to cyber crime as those larger SMEs.
There is value to be had in networking across sectors. Whether you are a single entrepreneur or a business with many employees, you will benefit from joining a community of like-minded people from other sectors.
An IT service provider can help with this by providing support across the network and thus sharing the cost. That could be technical support and a help desk or an ad-hoc service for a specific issue. Although each business is unique, certain bits of advice can be shared throughout the community that can benefit everyone.