As a start-up business, having a support network is invaluable. Networking connects you with other new business owners who are on a similar journey. It’s a chance to learn from fellow entrepreneurs and experts and hear about their experiences. And it’s a way to make contact with mentors, potential clients and new friends.
Being self-employed and working alone can be isolating, and launching a business by yourself can seem daunting. Joining networking groups can alleviate self-doubt and provide support for you and your new business. Networking can be inspiring, educational, good for your mental health and wellbeing, and it means you don’t have to face a challenge – or celebrate success – alone.
Where to find networking support as a start-up
With Covid-19 restrictions still preventing large meet-ups, you’ll probably start off introducing yourself online. However, being optimistic about the future, face-to-face events may start appearing in your diary soon. Take a look at our list of networking opportunities below and decide which will work best for you and your start-up business.
Family and friends
Reassuringly, you may not need to wander far from your kitchen table to find a support network. It’s just a case of thinking carefully about who you already know and who you’re keen to be introduced to. Perhaps a relative is a website developer who can help you sell the goods you make online. Or a dog-walking friend may have a partner in PR who can assist with promotion. Networking opportunities are everywhere, even your doorstep – so make the most of them.
Work contacts, past and present
If you’ve worked in a business as part of a team, those strong bonds you made in the workplace don’t have to end when you move on to launch your own business. While it’s easy to lose touch, today’s communication channels mean it’s also easy to reconnect. If you know a legal adviser, a brilliant wordsmith or a marketing expert, drop them a friendly hello via Facebook or LinkedIn and see what they’re up to.
Social media forums and network groups
Regardless of the topic, you’re sure to find a social media group that can introduce you to a network of people with similar interests. From bakers and crafters to consultants and tradespeople, joining an online group is an easy way to contact other new business owners. It’s also a safe way to reach out and ask for guidance or test the water to see if there is a demand for a new product.
It only takes a quick browse of your local council’s website to reveal nearby schemes for start-ups and small businesses. Many offer group coaching and expert-run workshops – an ideal networking scenario where there’s a chance to meet other local business owners. Some local councils may also help with start-up funding through grants, especially if you employ locally or your business has a community focus.
Find your local council.
British Chambers of Commerce
This national network of accredited chambers of commerce helps UK businesses of all sizes, supporting and connecting companies and bringing individuals together to share experiences and best practice. You need to sign up to your local chamber and become a member, but this should open the door to an array of business opportunities, and you’ll gain access to networking events.
Find out more at the British Chambers of Commerce website.
Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)
Helping smaller businesses and people who are self-employed, this organisation offers not-for-profit advice and financial expertise and protects the interests of business by lobbying government. Membership costs from £177 in the first year, which allows you to engage in unlimited networking events, some virtual and some held in your local area.
Find out more at the FSB website.
University business incubator schemes
As well as encouraging entrepreneurs and start-ups to innovate and grow, many university business incubator programmes support a peer network of like-minded professionals. At the University of Hertfordshire, for example, any ambitious business owner can join for free and then enjoy meeting others in similar situations, sharing challenges and exchanging practical advice. The National Association of College & University Entrepreneurs (NACUE) also organises inspiring networking events for enterprising students.
Breakfast and supper clubs
Having fun while socialising is an important aspect of networking. Chatting over a coffee or glass of wine often helps with those initial first introductions. At breakfast and supper clubs, networking gatherings that don’t interrupt the working day, conversations flow, and contacts and connections are made. Ask around to see if any clubs take place locally, or search online.
New start-ups seeking support specific to their sector should focus their network search. For example, the weekly magazine The Caterer lists networking events suitable for those working in hospitality. Likewise, the Institute of Hospitality hosts virtual webinars and conferences, including coffee and conversation meetings and food and drink quiz nights.
For anyone with a craft start-up, The Craft Network aims to create a feeling of community, togetherness and inclusivity, while Craft UK is a network facilitated by the Crafts Council and free to join. Trade associations and professional bodies in the UK are a good first port of call for finding industry-related networking groups.
People from all walks of life support charities and attend organised events. Volunteering is a great way to get involved in your local community, do some good and network with individuals whose paths you’d otherwise not cross. No regular spare time? Don’t worry – you can always attend one-off events as and when work allows. Follow #charityevent on LinkedIn, look at events organised by Locality and UnLtd, and visit the online platform Neighbourly and be inspired.
5 start-up networking tips
1. Consider co-working in a shared space
A great hub for start-ups, co-working spaces let you become part of a working community and make new contacts regularly. Expect these spaces to regain popularity once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.
2. Keep a lookout for free events
A local art exhibition, classical concert, flower arranging demonstration – attend free events, and there’s sure to be an opportunity to chat with others present. See Eventbrite for ideas.
3. Practise your introduction
Can you describe your start-up succinctly in a sentence or two? If not, make this a priority. Introductions will go smoother if you know what you want to say.
4. Have business cards at the ready
A business card lets you easily share your contact details. Don’t worry about anything too fancy – keep your card simple, so important contact information is clear.
5. Network wisely
Don’t worry about chatting to all and sundry at a networking event or trying to get five minutes with a key speaker. If possible, examine the attendee list and track down people you want to make contact with. That way, you focus your efforts on contacts who will benefit you and the person you’re connecting with.
Want to discover more about being a leader and managing employees? Check out our free online courses in partnership with the Open University on developing effective entrepreneurial skills. Our free Learn with Start Up Loans courses include:
Plus free courses on finance and accounting, marketing, project management and business sustainability.
Disclaimer: While we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.