The importance of networking to business growth shouldn't be underestimated. It's a practice that is openly encouraged in some professions and disparaged in others, but to entrepreneurs it's an essential part of the job; and of even greater importance in times of uncertainty.
The challenges on the horizon for North East business owners in 2017 include economic risks from political events like Brexit and the subsequent trade negotiations with the EU, along with fluctuations in domestic and international markets and the accelerating pace of technological change.
The North East’s business community is relatively small and close-knit, though business population statistics do show it is growing faster than in any other region. This closeness makes doing business with other companies, sharing information and peer-to-peer mentoring more readily accessible than elsewhere. It has also created a friendly and supportive business culture, which people from outside of the area often remark upon.
No one can do it all on their own and by embracing the ever-increasing interconnectedness of people, our region’s entrepreneurs can improve the resilience of their companies when it comes to upcoming challenges; and perhaps turn them into opportunities.
Our manufacturers and other exporters are already taking advantage of the weakening pound following the Brexit vote. An economic condition that at present makes North East goods and services more appealing to overseas markets.
The region’s burgeoning tech sector, which is gaining national acclaim and shows no sign of slowing down, is an example of how growth can come through innovation.
Whether a business is Brexit-proofing’ its operations or looking at new opportunities, in the most basic sense, networking is unquestioningly one of the best ways to find new customers and routes to market, but it can add so much more.
The skills gap is one of the five key issues that the UK must overcome to create the ideal conditions for companies scaling up. While this can only be solved when national and local government comes together with the business community, meeting people can help you stay ahead of the curve. A significant proportion of vacancies, especially at management and professional levels, are filled by face-to-face contact, like networking.
Advice from people who have been there and done something themselves can be invaluable for even seasoned entrepreneurs, when starting a business or embarking on a project in an unfamiliar area. The best way to make the valuable contacts that can help in his situation, whether for informal advice, structured mentoring or professional services, is to get out of the office and meet other business people.
Innovation and efficiency are essential to maintaining the high-value, high-quality appeal of British products and services, and are now even more important given the potential risks to tariff-free trade with our European neighbours, and the renewed opportunity to forge commercial partnerships with the rest of the world.
The leaders of businesses looking to defend or expand their export offering could see huge benefits by reaching out into the market and meeting people from their wider supply chain.
While digital communication has undoubtedly improved the way we do business, we have evolved as social beings and can gain much more from meeting people in person. For the entrepreneur there is no substitute for networking, especially in 2017.
The Entrepreneurs’ Forum brings together the business owners of the North East to help make their businesses stronger; and to help make the North East stronger. It’s a network where people share experience in the interests of the greater good. In times of uncertainty, it’s a place where entrepreneurs are helping each other; as together we really are stronger.