Top small business networking tips

Published • 16/04/2024 | Updated • 16/04/2024


Top small business networking tips

Published • 16/04/2024 | Updated • 16/04/2024


Small business networking might be pretty far down your to-do list if you’re a fledgling entrepreneur, and your mind might be on more immediately pressing questions like how to price a service and what the legal requirements for starting a small business are.

But whatever kind of enterprise you’re running – whether you’re exploring business ideas with low investment like providing copywriting services, or taking the exciting leap of opening your own café or food truck – the truth is that forging the right business connections can help accelerate you along the path to success

With this in mind, we’ve put together this handy guide to networking solutions for small businesses, covering the essentials of networking and the potential ways you can get to know fellow businesspeople. Let’s dive in.

What is small business networking?

The concept of networking is very simple: it’s all about widening your circle of acquaintances in the business community.

These days there’s a whole range of forums specifically created to bring professionals together. So, depending on where you’re located and what kind of sector you’re in, you may get to know people in person at business networking events, or online through social media and other digital platforms.

All of these routes can help you make valuable connections and broaden the appeal of your business.

Why networking is important for small business success

It’s a common misconception that networking is the preserve of professionals at large companies. The very word “networking” might conjure images of high-level corporate events and other exclusive functions.

But these kinds of get-togethers are only one facet of networking, and making great connections can be done in a far more low-key and casual way. Plus, it could be argued that networking is even more important for small businesses than it is for big organisations.

After all, high-powered corporations already have plenty of influence and reach, with established customer bases and brand name recognition. But if you’re going it alone with your own enterprise, you’ll want to go the extra mile to get your name out there – and this is where small business networking can be so useful.

Let’s run through some of the tangible benefits of networking, and why it should form a part of your business growth strategies.

Meet potential customers and clients

Thinking of how to advertise your business? It’s not just about posting on social media or paying for ads. Networking can be a form of advertising, allowing you to bring your business to the attention of prospective customers.

Say you’re specialising in online business ideas like providing marketing and design services for businesses. Attending a business networking event will effectively mean you’re mingling with potential clients, giving you the chance to talk about your services and pass on your contact details in a friendly, natural way.

Meet potential investors and backers

Finding the right networking events can be particularly important if you’re actively seeking investment or other kinds of third party help. If you’re lucky, you may just cross paths with someone with deep pockets or useful expertise who believes in your vision and will be keen to play a part in your ongoing success.

Forge professional partnerships

Taking small business ideas from the drawing board to reality is an exciting process, but it can undoubtedly bring up plenty of challenges. Being part of a small business network may put extra resources and expertise within reach, so that you can overcome obstacles and cater to customers more efficiently.

For example, you may have monetised your kitchen wizardry by setting up your own food and drink outlet, but the prospect of curating the best possible Instagram page might be outside your skillset.

Sure, you could browse the web for social media marketing experts to hire. But small business networking may introduce you to social media experts you personally click with, and who you can then have on your contacts list for when you’re ready to launch your online profile.

You could even create working partnerships with other businesses whose offerings will complement yours. For example, if you’ve opened a restaurant, you might team up with owners of nearby shops and food suppliers to cross-promote each other’s products, or organise events that can attract more customers for everyone.

Professional invoicing done right

Whether you’re requesting payment from your clients or businesses you’ve partnered with, ensuring your invoices are accurate, punctual and well presented will help you retain your professional prestige. SumUp Invoices automates the process, does your calculations for you, and customises the documents with your branding, so you can be sure you always make the right impression.

Start invoicing with ease

Gain industry knowledge

Networking can also be a great opportunity to learn more about your industry. Planning how to do a competitor analysis? Attend a business networking event or two, and you may meet other people working in your sector, and get up-close insights into how they operate and who their customers are.

Boost your credibility

Being a known and trusted quantity can be one of the keys to success, and becoming an active member of a small business network can really establish you in your community and industry.

Your fellow professionals will be able to put a face to your business name, and your consistent visibility can help to boost your credibility. This means that potential partners and clients will be more likely to approach you when it comes to work, rather than rival businesses which aren’t as visible.

Small business networking tips

If you’re keen to get stuck into some small business networking, there are two approaches you can take: in-person and online. Here are some good rules of thumb for each type.

In-person networking

1. Be ‘ready for inspection’

Before heading off to a business networking event, you’ll want to ensure your enterprise is ‘presentable’. In other words, your online store or business website is ship shape and ready to make a good impression on anyone you make connections with. You’ll also want to have a stack of business cards ready to be handed out.

They may seem rather retro in our digitised world, but business cards are still a handy way to keep in touch with the people you meet at business networking events. As well as clearly featuring your contact details, the design of your business cards should be consistent with your website and social media presence, featuring the same fonts and colour schemes.

2. Have an elevator pitch ready

You’re going to be asked about your business many, many times during a typical networking event, so you’ll want to have a quick, compelling response ready. This is your “elevator pitch” – a snappy summary of what your business does, and your unique selling point (USP).

The USP may be obvious if, say, you’ve been exploring creative ways to make money and have launched a print-on-demand range of bespoke fashion items. But what if your enterprise isn’t quite so unique?

Say, you’ve been brainstorming how to start a business in your local area and have set up a cleaning company targeting commercial premises like shops and offices. You may not have a USP as such, but your elevator pitch should still emphasise anything that sets you apart from the competition.

In this case, you might mention notable businesses in the area which have used your cleaning services, or how you’ve been leveraging social media to attract clients by uploading cleaning tips videos on Instagram and TikTok.

You might want to test drive your elevator pitch with a friend so you can get their feedback and refine it until it’s as brief and interesting as possible. Rehearsing like this can be particularly important if you’re primarily looking to find investors and backers at networking events.

3. Be forward

Let’s face it, walking into a room full of strangers with the intention of talking about your business can be daunting even if you’re a naturally confident person.

But even if you walk in and see that attendees have formed little groups, remember that this isn’t a party or a nightclub environment, where people may want to stick to their own circles of friends. Everyone is specifically here to meet new people and make new connections, so simply going over and opening a conversation is absolutely fine.

No elaborate ice breakers are required – a simple handshake and a question like “What do you do?” or “Have you been to these events before?” will do the job. You might want to approach another person who’s there on their own, so the two of you will form the kernel of a new group and more conversations will lead naturally on from there.

4. Don’t hard sell

Your primary goal when networking is to create longstanding contacts with people in the business community. Some of these may convert to clients, customers or backers further along the line, but you don’t want to come across as too “hard sell” at the networking event, as this can be alienating to others.

So, as well as delivering that elevator pitch summing up what you do, you’ll want to take an active interest in other people’s businesses – listen intently, ask open-ended questions, and, if you feel your own business connections may be useful, offer to put them in touch.

Sharing experiences and anecdotes can generate a rapport with your business peers and build trust. For example, if you’ve implemented a new piece of tech to make your premises run more smoothly – say, a self-service kiosk for customers – talking about this can bring real value to the conversation and encourage others to share their own business insights.

5. Remember to follow up

What you do after a business networking event can be just as important as how well you come across at the event itself. The day after, you should make time to diligently follow up on any promising connections you made.

So, don’t leave those business cards to sit forgotten in a drawer. Go through them and drop everyone a message by email or LinkedIn to say how great it was to meet them. 

If you can, reference something you spoke about, so it doesn’t come across as a generic copy and paste message. And, if you felt you particularly clicked, you can always suggest meeting up again for lunch, drinks, or even a formal meeting to talk business opportunities.

6. Measure the ROI

As we’ll delve into in more detail shortly, there are all kinds of business networking events available to entrepreneurs in the UK. Some may be a better fit for you and your business than others, bringing more fruitful connections, while others may yield more lacklustre results.

You obviously won’t want to waste your time by repeatedly going to events which don’t benefit your business, so it’s worth gauging your ROI (return on investment) after attending events. This is pretty straightforward – it’s just a matter of remembering to do it.

So, in the days following every business networking event you attend, make time to check your website and social media analytics to see if there’s an uptick in visits and engagement. And if you’re ever approached by new clients or customers who say they’ve been referred to you, be sure to note which event you met that mutual acquaintance at.

Online networking

1. Ensure your social media presence is on-point

Online networking is part and parcel of how to use social media for small business success, and it’s vital that your various profiles – X, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and the like – are all as good as they can possibly be.

When it comes to your LinkedIn profile – which is arguably the most important channel when it comes to small business networking – you’ll want to ensure your biographical information is up-to-date, and that you’ve listed all relevant qualifications and experience.

You should also ensure you’ve posted recently across all your platforms. If too much time has elapsed since any activity, it can make your business look inactive and stagnant.

2. Write personalised messages

Businesspeople tend to be very spam-savvy and will disregard unsolicited messages received via email or social media DMs (and you’re probably no exception). 

To maximise your chances of being taken seriously, you should avoid the temptation to write one generic message which you then send in a mass mailout. While this may save you time, it will almost inevitably come across as too “salesy” and impersonal, and get swiftly deleted.

Take the time to find out more about the person or business you’re getting in touch with. Read their latest posts on LinkedIn and X, and perhaps comment on one of the subjects they’ve mentioned. Remember that you’re seeking to establish a friendly connection rather than making an immediate sale.

3. Engage with posts

Speaking of social media posts, an invaluable way to network online is to engage with what people are saying without directly messaging them.

Say there’s somebody you’re interested in connecting with, and you notice they’ve written an interesting LinkedIn on a business trend or a social cause they care about. This is your cue to like and share their post. Even better, add a thoughtful comment to really put yourself on their radar, and make it feel more natural when you do eventually contact them.

4. Don’t just go for the big cheeses

It may be tempting to always reach out to the most prominent members of businesses – the owners, CEOs, department managers and the like – but networking often bears more fruit when you target the most relevant individuals, rather than the most senior.

Say you’re pursuing B2B business ideas from home such as providing various online services for companies. Your first inclination might be to establish an email back-and-forth with the CEO of a company you’d like to work with. But aiming lower might actually work better.

The CEO may be too busy to pay close attention to your opening message, and they may actually be too high up in the organisation to deal with whatever services you’re offering. However, if – say – you offer copywriting services and get in touch with a marketing executive at the company, they may actually be better placed to hear your thoughts and make the decision to hire your services.

5. Join industry-specific forums

Are there online spaces such as web forums and Facebook groups which are prominent in your particular sector? If so, you should consider joining up and making regular posts.

This way, you’ll naturally come to the attention of your peers without having to directly approach anyone, and you can also establish yourself as a thought leader in your space.

The best small business networking groups

All set to start some serious networking? Let’s run through some of the potential avenues you can explore.

Chambers of Commerce

The British Chambers of Commerce are regional business networks which boast around 50,000 businesses in total. Being a member of a chamber of commerce allows you to get involved in an eclectic array of business networking events – these can range from breakfast and dinner get-togethers, to days out playing golf and attending film screenings.

As a chamber member you can also attend workshops on everything from customer acquisition to small business crowdfunding, and have access to legal services and other kinds of business support. While membership won’t be free, joining a chamber can be one of the most effective ways to meet potential partners and clients, and establish yourself in your local business community.

Federation of Small Businesses

The Federation of Small Businesses is another prominent organisation for entrepreneurs in the UK. Your membership fee will give you access to a round-the-clock legal and employment helpline, as well as more than 1,500 legal documents and templates which can be very handy for anyone looking into how to run a business.

The organisation also provides webinars and training events, as well opportunities to meet and mingle with other small business owners. These take the form of both in-person gatherings and virtual networking events, so you should be able to make connections in a way that’s convenient for you.

Business Network International

Business Network International, or BNI, bills itself as the world’s largest referral networking organisation. It is made up of thousands of “chapters” scattered across the globe, whose members meet up regularly to get to know each other’s businesses and refer clients and customers to each other.

A unique aspect of BNI is that each chapter will only have one entrepreneur per profession. For example, if you’re working as a painter and decorator and join your local chapter, no other painter and decorator will be able to join.

This means that if there’s a vacancy for your particular trade near you, you may be able to gain an exclusive networking edge over your competitors. BNI operates a franchise system, so the cost of joining a chapter will depend on where you’re located.

Manage your business costs with ease

The cost of networking is just one of numerous overheads you’ll have to keep tabs on when you’re working for yourself. SumUp’s online business account gives you instant access to finances wherever you are, so you’ll always be up to date on how much your business is spending and earning.

Open a business account

Networking events listings sites

You don’t have to be a paid-up member of a formal organisation to attend business networking events. Online listings sites like and will let you browse calendars of events taking place across the country.

These can include industry-specific events – for example, gatherings of tech startup founders – as well as events aimed at types of businesspeople, such as those at the very start of their business journeys, or female entrepreneurs. These can be a great way to dabble in some networking without making a significant time or financial commitment.

Co-working spaces

If you’re interested in how to make money online or other low cost business ideas which you can do from home, but like the idea of being around other people in a bustling environment, then co-working spaces can be a great option.

Such spaces can be found all over the UK, allowing you to hire office space or “hot desk” (that is to say, use any space that’s free) in vibrant, open-plan buildings with communal areas, kitchens and canteens. Many co-working spaces also place a big emphasis on collaboration between entrepreneurs, and have lively calendars of networking events and workshops you can join.

Small business networking FAQs

Change management for small business success

What exactly is change management, and how can it make a big difference as your business moves forwards?

Read more

Small business risk management

The business risks you should look out for, and strategies for protecting your enterprise against them.

Read more

How to develop pricing strategies for your business

Discover tried-and-tested pricing strategies for every kind of business, from ecommerce to hospitality.

Read more

Learn more about management