Last year, a total of 657,790 new businesses were started in the UK, a steady rise from 2015 – 608,110 and 2014 – 581,173. One thing that is likely to have helped those businesses is joining an entrepreneur network.
Networking is a great way for you to receive – and offer – business support. It plays a key role in establishing any new business, or growing one, while it can also make a positive impact when it comes to showcasing a brand or product and sharing ideas.
It’s a really useful way of meeting people who can help you solve a problem, too.
Admin is one of the biggest issues that businesses face. If you decided to take the plunge, set up your business and sell your own products and services, it can be a bit of a shock to see how much admin there is to deal with.
However, joining an entrepreneur network can lead to you finding solutions that will make your life easier and help you keep on track with running your business. You might find you bump into an accountant during a networking session, who can save you time by doing your accounts.
Or during a conversation with someone you meet at an event, you might find out about accounting software that will help you keep your cash flow in check.
Philip Salter, director of Ten, an entrepreneur network, says: “Being an entrepreneur can be lonely. It’s hard to speak openly and honestly about the challenges of running your business to you employees and sometimes you need a break from any co-founders.
“Informal or formal groups allow entrepreneurs to share challenges and learn from their peers. Deals might also be struck but this is rarely the main reason for these groups existing.”
There are many resources available, from government-led “growth hubs”, Salter points out, to free events, joining a local entrepreneur network or club and registering with an online business community that’s specific to your industry, product or business.
Philip adds that Ten is all about helping entrepreneurs “either indirectly through impacting policy or directly through practical support”.
He says: “We are the Secretariat of the APPG for Entrepreneurship, which sits across the House of Commons and House of Lords. We host regular events with ministers, entrepreneurs and experts to address key policy challenges.
“We also run a number of practical programmes. The Female Founders Forum, which we run with Barclays, runs speed mentoring around the country. And the Leap 100 is made up of the owners of 100 of Britain’s fastest growing businesses.
“With [UK law firm] Mishcon de Reya, we are able to offer focused practical support for entrepreneurs through this programme.”
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Practical help and advice
Hannah Martin set up Talented Ladies Club in 2013 with her friend Kary Fisher in order to offer entrepreneurial mums practical help and advice with setting up and progressing their businesses.
She says: “Clubs and networks like ours and the Mum Enterprise Roadshow are all the more powerful because they’re not created by business tsars who don’t understand the struggles women face.”
However, if face-to-face networking doesn’t appeal or you’re “time poor” – perhaps you have prior family commitments or working on your business doesn’t give you much leeway to get out and about – there are other options available to you.
Hannah says: “There’s an increasing amount of online training, which is often affordable, accessible and can be worked on in your own time.
“It also helps to have positive role models – stories of women succeeding in business – to make it seem a possible path. Plus, there are some free business Facebook groups for women.
“New technology and apps now make running a business easier. You can set up with lower costs, often from home if you need to, or from an affordable co-working space.
“And online platforms offering everything from accountancy to legal packages mean that even small start-ups can afford to access support if they need it.”
What are the pros and cons of networking?
Carlo Gualandri, founder and CEO of Soldo, a multi-user spending account for businesses, says: “Having been an entrepreneur for decades, I have experienced first-hand the pros and cons of networking groups and events.
“My conclusion is that it depends on what stage you are in your business. For those just setting out, it’s good to establish yourself among your community with competitors, like-minded leaders and in your sector. But then you need to build the business and that takes time and effort.
“Pick the two best events during the year and stick to that – don’t become an events butterfly as you’ll start to lose focus. However, there may come a time when you want to raise a round of funding to support growth.”
She says: “I was new to the area so I joined a local creative business network. it was based in Devon and before the business was even launched, I went along. It was all women, they were giving advice and we helped each other out. It was nice meeting people in a similar boat.
“I have also made use of lots of online courses, so I can improve my business [with regards to online marketing] by taking photography and Instagram courses.”
What about entrepreneur network alternatives?
Royston Guest, founder and CEO of Pti Worldwide, a consultancy dedicated to growing businesses, says there are alternatives to attending traditional networking events and numerous “smart strategies” you can engage in.
From becoming a thought leader to creating a blog on your website, joining LinkedIn or running a systemised referral process through existing customers, there are lots of ways to reduce the need for “cold networking”, if need be.
What are your entrepreneur network stories? And have you made any connections that have benefited your business and made your life easier? Let us know in the comments section below.