Small business capitalises on benefits of networking

Last updated 05:00 08/04/2013

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The days of cold-calling for new clients are slowly fading with small-business owners increasingly turning to formal business networks to grow.

Small to medium enterprise (SME) owners say committing to a business network means they are able to spend more time on their core business and less on constantly marketing themselves and cold-calling prospective clients.

Daniel Hancock, owner of website designers Web Revolutions, said 35 per cent of the company's new business in the past year had come as a direct result of his membership in worldwide networking organisation Business Network International (BNI).

BNI has 132 chapters around the country.

Members meet weekly for a structured business meeting in which each member has an allocated time to speak about their business and offer client referrals to other members. Each chapter allows only one member per type of business.

Hancock said the key advantage of BNI membership was exposure to much wider business networks.

"You're not just relying on existing clients to refer you," he said. "Your net is cast a lot wider. You're exposed to other business people who work in wide range of businesses - lawyers, accountants, landscape designers, drainlayers - and they know you and trust you, so they're happy to recommend you to their clients," he said.

BNI marketing manager Colin Kennedy said New Zealand consistently won highest market penetration compared with other countries.

"The way we work in New Zealand just about everything is done by word of mouth," he said.

"I think New Zealanders are really relationship-focussed in how they do business.

"The thing about networking is it allows you to meet not only like-minded business owners, but it generates business."

Tauranga businesswoman Vanessa Davey launched the women's business network Venus in 2008 not long after launching her own small business, The Clutter Coach.

"I had gone from working in a team to working from home," she said. "Suddenly you're working in isolation, which takes a lot of getting used to, and I realised I had no idea how to go about marketing my business."

Realising there must be many women running home-based businesses and facing the same issues, she started Venus, which now has more than 30 chapters nationwide.

Rebecca Snow, who runs Auckland home-based business Vanilla Administration, says the boost in client numbers for her company was an unexpected bonus of joining Venus.

"I joined because I wanted to reach out to other women working on their own at home," she said. I wasn't particularly looking for new business but it's been an effective way of finding it.

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"It works because you're meeting with a group of women you trust and if they refer someone to you, you're going to work really hard to do the same for them."

Snow said she was now about to expand her business.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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