Networking. Small talk. Approaching complete strangers and striking up conversations.

Feel uncomfortable yet?

For some, even the word “networking” can trigger a bit of anxiety. However, it’s an absolutely key part of growing your business!

Here are five quotes to help you understand the true nature of networking and overcome your fear:

Fear #1: I’ll run out of things to say.

“The mark of a good conversationalist is not that you can talk a lot. The mark is that you can get others to talk a lot. Thus, good schmoozers are good listeners, not good talkers.” –Guy Kawasaki

Probably the number one misconception of networking is that the end goal is to sell. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself. If you can show genuine interest in another human being, you’ve won half the battle. So flex your listening skills, build others up, and maybe even walk away with a few new friends.

Fear #2: I’m introverted and people drain me.

“If your business comes from relationships, relationships should be your business.” – Doug Ales

Hate to break it to you, but almost all business is reliant on connecting with other people. 95% say face-to-face meetings are essential for establishing long-term business relationships.

Does that mean you have to be surrounded by people 24/7? No. But it does mean that you have to put yourself out there sometimes.

Fear #3: I’ll say something dumb.

“If you want to go somewhere, it is best to find someone who has already been there.” – Robert Kiyosaki

Networking isn’t about having all the answers. You’re there to discover and explore new possibilities. More than likely, most people in the room have the same questions you do. Rather than stressing yourself out trying to be the expert, show some humility and allow someone else to be the authority.

Fear #4: I don’t want to come across as selfish.

“The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” – Keith Ferrazzi

Networking is not a self-serving promotional campaign. Rather than solely focusing on what you have to gain, think about all you have to offer. There is someone in the room who could greatly benefit from the service, product or solution you are offering. Period.

Fear #5: I’ll get bored.

“Networking is not about just connecting people. It’s about connecting people with people, people with ideas, and people with opportunities.” – Michele Jennae

Here’s the good news—networking doesn’t have to be all about sparking small talk. If you’re at a great networking event, the focus should be on connecting YOU with new ideas.

Networking doesn’t have to be scary. By changing the way you perceive networking, you can change the way you approach it to embrace your inner networking champion.

Wondering how best to approach that late paying client? Business psychologist and member of the British Psychological Society Mike Guttridge gives his best tips on getting paid:

State clearly what you want to happen

Make sure the client understands your point of view. Explain that you invoiced 30 days ago, the amount is now overdue, and you expect to get paid by the end of the week.

Be nice, stay calm but don’t be a walkover

Certain clients will push you to the back of the queue if they think you’ll put up with it. It’s about being clear on your goal.

Keep reiterating the facts

Tell them when you invoiced them and your payment terms. And always get your facts right. If you sketch over the details – or worse, get them wrong – you’ll lose credibility and it’s easier for the client to ignore you.

Make personal contact with the person who employed you

It’s much harder to brush off somebody you’ve worked with or built a relationship with in the past. Ask if they can pull strings with the finance department or have a word with the boss.

Be persistent

Make regular phone calls. Suggest a meeting. Get in touch, often.

If you have to deal with the accounts department, be personable

Find out the person’s name and try to understand their point of view. Do they only pay on certain days? Is the company struggling? Treat everyone with respect, including the most junior assistant – it pays off.

Always use red ink on your reminder invoices

Red is known to command attention.

Get a special rubber stamp with your company name on it

Resend your invoice with “overdue” stamped right across the page, preferably in bright red. Be bold!

Goals provide motivation and direction for your business. While it’s important to set ambitious goals, they also need to be achievable.

A good way to think about goals is to use the SMARTER goals framework. Setting SMARTER goals will help you lead your business without getting caught up in the specifics. Here’s how you can do it:

1. Specific

Rather than setting a general goal like “I want to grow my business,” decide what exactly you want to achieve. For example, are you going to grow your business by increasing sales or by cutting costs? Doing both at the same time could prove problematic.

2. Measurable

If you want to increase sales or cut costs, set a financial target for your goal that you can track and measure. For example, you may say, “We will cut costs by 10%” or “We will increase sales by 10%”.

3. Attainable

You must have a means of achieving your goal. If you want to increase sales, consider if you can cross-sell or up-sell your products or services. Then, include this means in your goal. For example, “We will increase sales by 10% by up-selling X product to Y segment.”

4. Realistic

Increasing sales by 10% may be ambitious, but can your business achieve it? Remember, a stretch goal pushes your team beyond what’s been done before while a realistic goal is based on past performances.

5. Timely

Set a deadline for your goals and work them into your business plan. Typically, quarterly business goals work as they’re not so long away that they feel unachievable, and you can track them alongside your financial reports. For example, “We will increase sales by 5% during the first quarter through up-selling X product to Y segment.”

6. Evaluate

At the end of the quarter, review your SMARTER goals and consider how you’re progressing against a financial target. You can do this using up-to-date financial information paired with business insights from your team.

7. Re-do

Once you’ve evaluated your progress, adjust your goal for the coming quarter by doubling down on what works and abandoning what doesn’t. You should also inform members of your team about any changes to a SMARTER goal so they work on what matters most to your bottom line.

Choosing an accountant is one of the most important business decisions you’ll make. Finding a good accountant – or a trusted advisor – that really understands your business will be invaluable to its growth. While choosing the wrong accountant could end up costing you time and money.

Here are five important things to consider when choosing an accountant:

1. Get references and check accreditation

It’s wise to do a background and accreditation check, which you can usually do online. Ask the prospective accountant to provide client references. It’s also useful to get a recommendation from someone in your industry to be sure the accountant has a real understanding of your business’s needs.

2. Create a shortlist of candidates

Have an introductory chat with a few accountants, get quotes and make a shortlist. Establish how they prefer to communicate with their clients and if this suits your business.
Traditionally, many accountants only met with clients once a year. Today, younger and more forward-thinking accountants are embracing the online world and using platforms like Skype and FaceTime to keep clients updated on a more regular basis.

3. Check accountant fees

Often companies are charged by their turnover level, but you should really only pay for completed hours. Check how the accountant works out their fees, as this can potentially save you thousands. Always ask for a quote based on workload rather than what your business is making.

4. Stay in contact with your accountant

Ensure your accountant will have the time to stay in regular contact. If not, they won’t be able to provide you with the best advice. Companies often go into liquidation simply because they haven’t kept their accountant in the loop.

5. Could you be getting added value?

Pick an accountant that understands customer loyalty and retention. Many go above and beyond for their clients. Some are happy to recommend accounts software based on your business needs. Others like to hold regular networking events and business workshops. Some will even give you regular reviews of your finances free of charge, and make recommendations to help you boost profitability.

Customers are the lifeblood of any business, so it’s vital you can keep generating leads and retain your customers. We spoke to two small business owners and asked them to share their experiences of growing their customer base.

1. Get to know your prospects and customers

There’s a lot of talk about personalisation and customer insight – that’s because it works.

Understanding your customers’ needs can help you gain better insights into your audience and develop services matched to your clients’ needs.

It can also help you stand out from competitors, something that Alice Boden understands. She’s managing director of Bodice of Holt, which offers a home delivery service for fruit and vegetables. “We know our customers really well and know their preferences so we can tell them when certain things are coming – when they’re in season and in stock. Our service is completely personalised to their needs.

“This is where we have an advantage over bigger suppliers. I have a good relationship with our customers and I know the business. Because I source the produce and pack the boxes, I know exactly what’s happening and can provide a fully personalised service.”

And it’s not just consumers who like this approach. It also works for business clients too.

Mike Cockburn, Director at Sogno, a positive psychology coaching company, says, “It’s important that we understand what our clients are trying to achieve: their mission, their goals. Then we look at how we can accelerate that and customise our services to meet their needs. It leads to a more balanced relationship.”

2. Divide your time: support existing clients and look for new work

In simple terms, there are two ways to get more business – win new business or get your existing customers to spend more. It’s important to not focus on one at the expense of the other, as both are important for growing your customer base.

Mike says, “We do have a lot of repeat business and feel we offer the most value with long-term clients. But you need to keep bringing in new business too. Old business can falter if budgets change or people move on, so it’s important to look for new opportunities. You need to start a relationship early, so that it’s mature enough to deliver new business when your other work is completed.”

3. Offer great customer service

To keep your customers coming back, it’s important you offer great customer service. Research shows 78% of people have walked away from a sale due to poor customer service¹.

But if you get it right, it has a positive impact on your customer base and bottom line. Loyal customers are worth up to ten times the amount they originally spend.

Take the time to evaluate your customer service, make sure you respond to customers quickly and keep an eye on social media so you can offer great service online too. Your customer base should grow as a result.

4. Make the most of your networks

Ask a business owner where their customers come from and most will tell you word of mouth.

Recommendations from others are valuable: “It’s the idea of social capital – the value of relationships,” says Mike. “If I know people that they know, then there’s an implied trust.”

Most of his clients come from networking, something he’s passionate about.

“I think people sometimes equate networking with sales and prospects can be sensitive to a sales approach. But if you recognise that only so many contacts will go on to be clients, then it reduces the pressure. The work we do is based on trust and openness so the way we make contact is a good opportunity to demonstrate that. I meet up with loads of people and if I can help, they remember that. That can open new doors.”

Alice agrees. “Networking is really useful. It’s not just about selling, it’s about what you can do for people.”

5. Look for partnerships with other businesses

Your ideal customer will already have relationships with other businesses and this offers a great opportunity.

By partnering with other firms which offer complementary services, you can not only reach a new audience but also potentially offer more to your customers.

It’s something that Bodice of Holt are looking into at the moment: “There’s a body development firm which offers personal training and nutrition advice. Part of their service is to help their customers to understand what they should be eating when they’re training, which includes fruit and vegetables. They are recommending us to their clients – and we’re look at delivering directly to the gym once a week.

“It’s about looking around and keeping your eyes peeled for opportunities. Be open to new ideas and speak to people to see if they’re interested.”

6. Make use of social media

Social media has revolutionised the way customers and businesses can share information and have conversations.

From online customer service to delivering insights into your audience, there are now excellent opportunities for businesses to reach out via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other networks. Which ones work for you will depend on your business, your audience and the way you like to communicate.

7. Think big

If you’re a small business, can you work with a big company? The simple answer is yes.

But many small companies find it intimidating to make contact. Mike has a range of big clients and says it’s worthwhile approaching large corporates.

“Our success with clients goes back to developing a network of long-term connections. But small businesses now have more opportunities to work with big clients. I think that’s changed since the credit crunch. Big corporates may have been suspicious of smaller businesses in the past but they now recognise that they offer value and have lower costs too. There is less prejudice now.”

8. Play to your strengths

It’s definitely worth testing a range of marketing approaches and seeing what works. But remember that every business is different, so you may find some approaches don’t work. Don’t be afraid to drop these.

9. Adapt as your business grows

It’s important to keep trying new ways of reaching your audience and not automatically reject things that might not have worked in the past.

As your company becomes established, you may find your customers come from different sources.

“We get new customers from a wider mixture of places as the business has grown,” says Alice.

“We’ve been going for about two years and at the start, it was through friends and family. Now we get people through word of mouth, advertising and from attending markets. We also get people through Google and the website.”

10. Measure what works for you

As you try out new approaches, be sure to monitor where your customers come from and which sources offer the most value.

You can then keep refining your approach or scale up activities that work to grow your customer base further.

1. American Express Survey, 2011

As a small business owner, you know that time is your most valuable and scarce asset. If you spend it the wrong way, you can never get it back.

A report from McKinsey surveyed 1,500 executives across the world about how they spend their time at work. The findings reveal only 9% of respondents were ‘very satisfied’ with their time allocation.

So how can you improve your time management?

1. Understand the monetary value of each working hour

If you know how much revenue each activity generates for your business, you’ll be less likely to spend your company’s money and resources on the wrong things.

If you’re struggling, keep a log in a spreadsheet of what you and your team do each day, how long tasks take and if they generate revenue (directly or indirectly).

This quantification will help you manage your time and your company’s resources more efficiently.

2. Create to-do lists

Many small business owners try to remember granular details about each project, leading to information overload. Instead, use a to-do list to get actions out of your head and take charge of your projects.

Sir Richard Branson is just one of many business people who credits his success to to-do lists. On the Virgin blog, he writes:

“I do indeed write to-do lists and prioritise items. I live my life by writing lists – there is one next to me right now. Without to-do lists, I would use my time far less effectively, and have a lot less fun.”

Besides pen and paper, here are five great (and affordable) resources for creating your to-do list:

Wunderlist: an affordable, cloud-based to-do list app that’s great for sole traders and small teams
Trello: a powerful productivity tool geared towards collaboration
Outlook’s to-do list: links directly to your email
Any.do: another powerful productivity tool geared towards collaboration

3. Focus on what’s important

Productive small business owners know their time is best spent working on important and or urgent tasks rather than those that add little business value. When reviewing your to-do lists, be ruthless and efficient about what gets your attention first.

You’ll accomplish more if you focus on one task from your list at a time. Of course, sometimes unforeseen events take priority, but your goal is to work through your to-do list methodically when possible.

4. Do it, delegate it, defer it

In his best-selling book Getting Things Done, business productivity author David Allen highlights the value of rapidly doing, delegating or deferring key tasks as appropriate.

By doing, you use your cognitive skills in a sensible way that delivers a return to your business. By delegating a task that’s inappropriate for you, you use your time and your team’s resources and skills more efficiently. By deferring, you put off what’s unimportant until a future date when you have the required time, energy and resources.

This simple three-step workflow will help you work on high-priority tasks more frequently and grow your business.

5. Take regular breaks

Overworking is as damaging to your health and business as not doing enough. Ensure you take proper breaks and get away from the office. Otherwise, you’ll feel stressed about working extra hours and likely become unproductive and frustrated about your progress.