Despite the increasing popularity of social networking websites like Twitter and Linked-In, face-to-face networking is more important than ever according to a study conducted by business community Business Scene.
Business Scene questioned 500 small businesses and found that two-thirds of SMEs are now networking in person at least once a week.
Sarah Arrow is director of Arrow Light Haulage. She knows her business and the industry inside-out: "I’ve done everything except drive the vans!" she says. Arrow’s £250,000-turnover firm transports goods for a variety of sectors, from pharmaceutical companies to cleaning businesses. Competition for both corporate and small business clients is stiff in haulage, so Arrow has to pull out all the stops to keep her customers sweet.
"Face-to-face networking really helps us to find out what our clients’ issues are," she explains. "If they email or phone us, they’ll just give details of a job. But if we meet up in person they’re more likely to say, ‘So and so’s off sick so we’re short staffed and that’s why we need you to do this.’ It means we can react accordingly and the customer is happy and will probably use us again".
Arrow is not alone. Thirty eight per cent of small firms say that face-to-face meetings are now crucial to the success of their business. And they’re prepared to devote money as well as time in the pursuit of an ever-expanding network.
"We’ve held an annual barbecue for the past five years," says Arrow. "They’re very popular. And we also attend networking lunches and go to other people’s events. We like to get out and about. But the return on investment for us is huge. On a £1,200 spend on entertaining, we made £120,000 of business back. We wouldn’t have survived the recession without it."
It’s no surprise that businesses are taking face-to-face networking so seriously. Business Scene’s research has discovered that one in five SMEs made more than £10,000 from this form of networking in the past year. Almost half made more than £1,000.
"If you get to know somebody socially and they can see you’re a person with honesty and integrity, they want to do business with you," says Arrow.
Warren Cass, Founder of Business Scene concludes, “Face-to-face networking is now something no business can afford to ignore. Online networking is very effective at raising a company’s profile among potential customers, and should be an important part of their marketing mix, but for real business relationships it is still vital to feel a handshake and see the whites of their eyes.”