Building relationships within your industry: what’s in it for you?

When you’re working on your own, it’s easy to forget about networking and building relationships with other people in your industry, or to think that it’s not worth your time.

But building these relationships can be a great way to get support for your business, or even generate more work. Here are a few great opportunities that can arise from interacting with businesses and professional bodies in your marketplace - including those you may have traditionally regarded as out and out competitors.

Build your network and get support from industry bodies

Some people are sceptical about industry bodies, as many still operate solely as “membership organisations” that feel old-fashioned with few benefits. But the good news is that many of the more forward-thinking industry bodies are now providing support, sharing resources and helping members network with each other. For example, the Federation of Small Businesses runs regular networking sessions throughout the year and across the country exclusively for its members.

It’s worth trying to get to know regional representatives of these bodies as they are normally well-informed of changes in legislation or industry initiatives that are in the pipeline. As a member, you may gain a competitive advantage by getting a heads-up about changes coming through - and may also discover new opportunities to provide consulting expertise into the organisation.

Get referrals from complementary businesses

Every business will usually be able to find a range of other “complementary” industries whose services or products could tie in with them. A professional hairdresser, for example, can build up a network of photographers, makeup artists and caterers who could recommend clients to each other.

So if you run your own business, start to identify some complementary service or product providers in your industry sector that you can strike up partnerships with. Think about how you could team up to offer a combined service or referral scheme that would benefit your customers.

For an example of how this works, take a look at how we work with partners here at FreeAgent. Our Partners page lists all of the professional organisations and companies that we’ve forged close links with and we encourage our customers to check them out and see how their businesses can benefit from these services.

Work with your competitors (yes, really!)

You may think that a competitor is the last person you’d want to partner with, but there are many potential gains to be had by working with them.

In some industries, the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” can apply - if you and a competitor have a different enough product or service within an industry, you may find that joining forces to raise awareness about your business could bring more customers to both of you.

Also, if you find that you sometimes have to turn away work because you’re already too busy or scheduled for a particular date, you and a competitor that you respect could agree to point clients in each other’s direction.

Finally, for a great example of competitors and complementary businesses working together, check out the Glasgow Wedding Collective - a handpicked group of companies in Scotland who respect and collaborate with each other.

Matt Perkins works in FreeAgent's Business Development team, and spends his days travelling the country to meet small business owners and organisations.

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