Top 5 Benefits Of Business Networking
Networking in business can mean two things.
One is, of course, the quantitative technical aspect of installing an efficient system of Local Area Network (LAN) in your office or a Wide Area Network (WAN) among your various branch offices. A systematic and technologically sound network has a very big role to play in creating streamlined processes, better management of data and user-friendly accessibility for employees in your business.
But in this article, we are going to talk about the top 5 advantages of the equally important qualitative aspect of networking in business - which includes networking with other business owners, customers, dealers and peers.
Especially for small and growing businesses, which do not have a marketing department or lots of money to spend on advertising, networking can be a key for expanding the business. For the CEO of a small business, investing in networking often serves as the biggest gateway to getting leads, referrals, new business and contacts. Let's take a look at the top 5 advantages of networking in business:
1. You get a feel for the local business environment
Especially in the context of your own small business, it is vitally important to understand how the local market behaves, what are its key demand areas and its most effective price points keeping in mind the demographic and psycho-graphic profile of the area. Networking with other peers in your local business area and associations of local business owners and customers helps you get a clearer picture of the demand and supply graph of your local business area.
2. Keep updated with the current happenings in the local business environment
No business can grow in isolation. Networking with other business owners and associations helps you keep updated on the latest local business news, new regulations, incentives or tax reliefs offered by the local government to small businesses and the changing customer demands.
Besides, it is important to have updated knowledge of current business trends to be able to spot emerging business opportunities. You can accordingly fine tune your business plans and marketing strategies to make best use of the developments.
3. Gain qualified leads and referrals
It is said that, on average, 70% of all new business is gained through word of mouth and positive recommendation. Irrespective of how much money you invest in advertising or marketing, the best way to increase your business is by getting solid referrals or sales leads that come from known contacts.
Once you build a network of good, reliable contacts, you will find your contacts passing on business leads to you, which you will be able to close more quickly than those coming from advertising. People like to refer those whom they know, like and trust.
4. Get useful business tips and advice
A good network of contacts is like an investment in executive coaching. You will find that the best business advice and tips come to you from your contacts. People with whom you have built positive relationships would gladly pass on effective and honest advice to you.
Especially your peers or business owners who are in non-competing businesses are great sources of useful tips. One proven way of building a great network of contacts is to join a CEO club or CEO association where you can interact with experienced peers and business owners on the problems you are facing or the strategies you would like to apply.
Networking with peers in a CEO group or CEO club who will give you sound and honest advice is one of the best ways of receiving helpful business insights. Your contacts and peers may have experienced similar problems to yourself and can point you in the right direction.
Also, make it a regular exercise to attend relevant business seminars and conferences where you can establish a number of potential new contacts.
5. Unlock new business opportunities
Building a growing network of business associates, business contacts and peers is like opening yourself to a larger world of new ideas. You may be running a small business but that does not mean you should limit your ideas, vision and plans for your business within narrow confines.
As you meet with new business contacts, you will be amazed to find yourself being exposed to new business ideas, new market possibilities and new potential for expansion which you otherwise may not have thought of.
Business networking helps you in many other ways. It develops your communication skills and confidence in meeting with new people. Besides it also gives you unique opportunities of being of help to others, just as others have been to you. It may hold the key to your business's expansion and success.
Tips to Secure Your Small Business Network
Just because your business is small, doesn't mean that hackers won't target you. The reality is that automated scanning techniques and botnets don't care whether your company is big or small, they're only looking for holes in your network security to exploit.
Maintaining a secure small business or home network isn't easy, and even for an old hand in IT, it still takes time and energy to keep things locked down. Here are 10 of the most critical steps you can take to keep your data from ending up elsewhere, and none of them take much time or effort to accomplish.
- Get a Firewall
The first step for any attacker is to find network vulnerabilities by scanning for open ports. Ports are the mechanisms by which your small business network opens up and connects to the wider world of the Internet. A hacker sees an open port to as an irresistible invitation for access and exploitation. A network firewall locks down ports that don't need to be open.A properly configured firewall acts as the first line of defense on any network. The network firewall sets the rules for which ports should be open and which ones should be closed. The only ports that should be open are ports for services that you need to run.
Typically, most small business routers include some kind of firewall functionality, so chances are if you have a router sitting behind your service provider or DSL/cable modem, you likely have a firewall already. To check to see if you already have firewall capabilities at the router level in your network, log into your router and see if there are any settings for Firewall or Security. If you don't know how to log into your router on a Windows PC, find your Network Connection information. The item identified as Default Gateway is likely the IP address for your router.
There are many desktop firewall applications available today as well, but don't mistake those for a substitute for firewall that sits at the primary entry point to your small business network. You should have a firewall sitting right behind where your network connectivity comes into your business to filter out bad traffic before it can reach any desktop or any other network assets.
- Password Protect your Firewall
Great you've got a firewall, but it's never enough to simply drop it into your network and turn it on. One of the most common mistakes in configuring network equipment is keeping the default password.
It's a trivial matter in many cases for an attacker to identify the brand and model number of a device on a network. It's equally trivial to simply use Google to obtain the user manual to find the default username and password.
Take the time to make this easy fix. Log into your router/firewall, and you'll get the option to set a password; typically, you'll find it under the Administration menu item.
- Update Router Firmware
Outdated router or firewall firmware is another common issue. Small business network equipment, just like applications and operating systems, needs to be updated for security and bug fixes. The firmware that your small business router and/or firewall shipped with is likely out-of-date within a year, so it's critical to make sure you update it.Some router vendors have a simple dialogue box that lets you check for new firmware versions from within the router's administration menu. For routers that don't have automated firmware version checking, find the version number in your router admin screen, and then go to the vendor's support site to see if you have the latest version.
- Block Pings
Most router and firewalls include multiple settings that help to determine how visible your router and/or firewall will be to the outside world. One of the simplest methods that a hacker uses to find a network is by sending a ping request, which is just a network request to see if something will respond. The idea being if a network device responds, there is something there that the hacker can then explore further and potentially exploit. You can make it harder for attackers by simply setting your network router or firewall so that it won't respond to network pings. Typically, the option to block network pings can be found on the administration menu for a firewall and/or router as a configuration option.
- Scan Yourself
One of the best ways to see if you have open ports or visible network vulnerabilities is to do the same thing that an attacker would do - scan your network. By scanning your network with the same tools that security researchers (and attackers) use, you'll see what they see. Among the most popular network scanning tools is the open source nmap tool). For Windows users, the Nmap download now includes a graphical user interface, so it's now easier than ever to scan your network with industry standard tools, for free. Scan your network to see what ports are open (that shouldn't be), and then go back to your firewall to make the necessary changes.
- Lock Down IP Addresses
By default, most small business routers use something called DHCP, which automatically allocates IP addresses to computers that connect to the network. DHCP makes it easy for you to let users connect to you network, but if your network is exploited it also makes it easy for attackers to connect to your network. If your small business only has a set number of users, and you don't routinely have guest users plugging into your network, you might want to consider locking down IP addresses.The benefit of assigning an IP is that when you check your router logs, you'll know which IP is associated with a specific PC and/or user. With DHCP, the same PC could potentially have different IPs over a period of time as machines are turned on or off. By knowing what's on your network, you'll know where problems are coming from when they do arise.
- Use VLANs
Not everyone in your small business necessarily needs access to the same network assets. While you can determine and set access with passwords and permissions on applications, you can also segment your network with VLAN or virtual LANs. VLANs are almost always part of any business class router and let you segment a network based on needs and risks as well as quality of service requirements. For example, with a VLAN setup you could have the finance department on one VLAN, while sales is on another. In another scenario, you could have a VLAN for your employees and then setup another one for contract or guest workers. Mitigating risk is all about providing access to network resources to the people who are authorized and restricting access to those who aren't.
- Get an IPS
A firewall isn't always enough to protect a small business network. Today's reality is that the bulk of all network traffic goes over Port 80 for HTTP or Web traffic. So if you leave that port open, you're still at risk from attacks that target port 80. In addition to the firewall, Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) technology can play a key network security role. An IPS does more than simply monitor ports; it monitors the traffic flow for anomalies that could indicate malicious activity. IPS technology can sometimes be bundled in on a router as part of a Unified Threat Management (UTM) device. Depending on the size of your small business network, you might want to consider a separate physical box.
Another option is to leverage open source technologies running on your own servers (or as virtual instances if you are virtualized). On the IPS side, one of the leading open source technologies is called SNORT (which is backed by commercial vendor Sourcefire.
- Get a WAF
A Web Application Firewall (WAF) is specifically tasked with helping to protect against attacks that are specifically targeted against applications. If you're not hosting applications within your small business network, the risks that a WAF helps to mitigate are not as pronounced. If you are hosting applications, WAF in front of (or as part of) your Web server is a key technology that you need to look at. Multiple vendors including Barracuda have network WAF boxes. Another option is the open source ModSecurity project, which is backed by security vendor Trustwave.
- Use VPN
If you've gone through all the trouble of protecting your small business network, it makes sense to extend that protection to your mobile and remotely connected employees as well. A VPN or Virtual Private Network lets your remote workers log into your network with an encrypted tunnel. That tunnel can then be used to effectively shield your remote employees with the same firewall, IPS and WAF technologies that local users benefit from. A VPN also protects your network by not letting users who may be coming in from risky mobile environments connect in an insecure fashion.
Business Networking - Spider man's Not The Only One Building Webs
Business Networking is crucial to the success of your business. Building a foundational web of contacts, support and resources can be the difference between success and moderate success, or success and failure.
If you are new to online business, Internet marketing, or the business of doing business, you may not be as familiar as you should be with business networking. Let's discuss this very important aspect of doing business, especially as it relates to business online.
The term business networking refers to the practice of people spreading knowledge of their business, products, and services to others in a manner that leaves a good impression, lets people recall you and your business, and encourages the formation of strategic alliances. It is a process of meeting and familiarizing yourself with others, and building relationships that are important to the success and profitability of your business.
Most Internet marketers and entrepreneurs quickly come to realize that in order to grow their businesses, they needed to engage in business networking for all of the same reasons offline businesses do - sharing services, forming partnerships to help promote one another, building sources of support, and expanding their reach and resources. This is really the crux of business networking, to form alliances which translate to mutually beneficial relationships.
Even though some entrepreneurs have years of business and professional experience offline, for whatever reason, they often ignore the practice of networking when becoming engaged in online business. This may be due to their unfamiliarity or inexperience with the Internet, where they may not immediately grasp its fundamental principle. After all, the Internet is networking; the ultimate means of sharing of information.
Business Networking is an activity. Its purpose is to find and build upon connections and relationships that will benefit you and your business. Period. It requires the active participation of the parties involved, and it includes connecting with other people who may be your peers, potential mentors, individuals who have similar business interests, or people who have other things in common with you.
You will likely discover various benefits of networking. These may include new sources of support, added business knowledge, and increased financial resources, however, always be clear in your understanding that the end goal of your networking is to find what benefits you and helps you to succeed.
There are numerous business networks in existence, both online and offline, where members may share special privileges and benefits. For example, a network may encourage members to share or exchange services among one another within the network for reduced fees, in comparison to what is available to outsiders.
Some networks are more formal than others, sometimes having administrators who coordinate activities and events within the organization, enforce governing bylaws of the membership, or collect membership fees annually. Other networks may not actually conduct business within themselves, but serve to gather people of like interests and bring them together. Meet-up.com is one such business network, and allows its online members who share the same interests and location to actually meet face to face.
Now that we know what networking is and some of its benefits, let's take a look at networking online, beginning with a quick glance at social networking.
Social Networking - The last two years have seen a substantial rise of social network activity and the growth of related sites such as YouTube, Facebook and MySpace among others.
Since its purchase by Google, YouTube, has continued to become an immensely popular success story. The site allows amateurs, with little knowledge of the web and no software to download to facilitate participation, and literally anyone with a camcorder or camera/video phone to upload personal videos online and make an impression.
YouTube started as a place for friends and families to share videos, but with time, businesses and entrepreneurs began to see the importance of using YouTube to facilitate marketing and business networking. At the close of whatever type of video, publishers simply embed links or other contact information for their businesses or websites. With the immense volume of traffic to YouTube, this has developed into an extremely effective tactic. Social network sites exemplify the concept of viral marketing at its best.
Let's look at another example. Facebook is another hugely popular site where friends can share interests, information, sell goods and services to each other, upload photos and videos and even join existing networks. Businesses which join Facebook, enter a world of virtually limitless opportunities and potential leads. As a result of their activities, members can experience a phenomenal surge in traffic to their websites or businesses.
The most important thing to remember about the advantages of online networking is that you can position yourself and your business to benefit from worldwide contacts and relationships, the potential of which is immensely greater than that to which you may otherwise be exposed. And the results of those connections can develop exponentially within short periods of time.
One last thing. In dealing with online networking (where you may rarely have the opportunity of meeting your partners face-to-face), it is especially important to focus on three fundamentals of good business: professionalism, courtesy and great customer service.
Excellent customer service skills can mean the difference in whether or not your business is recommended or selected for a contract or project. It also leaves a lasting impression on the people with whom you come into contact, helping them to remember you. With numerous online sites and portals, many businesses are engaged in competition with one another, and what may very well be a distinguishing factor is customer service and courtesy.
A few tips for business networking:
1. Create A Website-If your main business is offline, create an online presence with a website featuring an easy means of contacting you. Most offline businesses have now realized the advantages of having an online presence. A very large proportion of business is now conducted online and people usually go online to research a company before they conduct any business with it. These days, without a business website, it is impossible to fully tap into the benefits of business networking.
2. Business Cards-It may seem an archaic concept, but business networking, even for online businesses, should not be confined to the Internet. In order to succeed in networking, a business representative should have business cards as part of their marketing plan, which contain the basic elements of the business's contact information.
3. Be Skilled In Customer Service-As stated earlier, customer service can make or break a company. With numerous businesses competitors, a crucial aspect is customer service.
4. Join Social Networks Online-We cited Facebook, YouTube, and My Space as excellent sites to join in order to generate exposure to your business, and there are of course many others including common interest groups and forums.
Business networking is of utmost necessity if you are to grow your business in this immensely competitive environment. In many ways, the Internet has leveled the playing field so that small business organizations can effectively compete among each other, and against larger entities. Use this to your advantage. Create your own immense business webs. Spider man has nothing on you.