Business Networking: A key to success for Local Micro Enterprises

The twin processes of globalization and rapid advances in information and communication technologies, have led to new challenges as well as opportunities for Maltese micro enterprises. The new dynamics of production, enterprise development and international competition, offer micro enterprises opportunities to successfully target the international marketplace. However, venturing on the international plane is not an easy ride. It requires a clear strategy, a thorough knowledge of the market/s, a concrete investment, and a realistic awareness of the strengths as well as limitations of the company itself.  Moreover, internationalisation calls for a good use of networking opportunities.

It is not what you know, it is who you know. Networking offers a key channel for local micro enterprises to reach vendors, customers, and future business partners. It allows micro enterprises to present themselves and their networking objective in a much more personal way than any advertisement, promotion, or online medium can. Networking allows entrepreneurs to build contact and rapport with other businesses, contacts and customers, allowing their small businesses to grow through greater opportunities. Businesses that embedded resources in business networks gained competitive advantages through the flow of information. Vital information such as market situations, strategic locations, and social ties can provide useful information about business opportunities and alert firms about choices available that they could embark on. This business relationship may be conceived by organizations as certifications of the company’s credentials, some of which reflect the entity’s accessibility to resources through business networks. Business networking also reinforces identity and recognition which are essential for the maintenance of long term company’s success.

It is important for micro enterprises to understand the role of business networking in influencing their business performance. A major stumbling encountered by local micro enterprises to access the international market lies in their difficulty to identify and access potential partners or clients abroad and their wrong perception of high cost to network on the international plane.

Governmental & Non-Governmental Institutions

Nothing comes for free yet networking can be cost effective if micro enterprises identify the right channels.  Malta Enterprise and the Malta Chamber of Commerce play a pivotal role in assisting micro enterprises in the internationalisation process by means of inward and outward delegations as well as networking events. Indeed Malta Enterprise,Gateway to Export programme as well as the Malta Chamber of Commerce internationalisation committee and business councils assist local enterprises to access the international market. The Malta Institute of Management (MIM)alsoassists the Maltese business community in their internationalisation process by means of conferences in Malta and abroad as well as by means of networking events and round table discussions. Moreover, the MIM has this year embarked on a European Social Fund project – VETPRO that offered the possibility to several MIM members to network with business counterparts in Veneto and Calabria. A further delegation under the same project will visit Rome in February 2014.

Consuls & Embassies

Honorary consuls can also play a key role for micro enterprises to access the international market.As international relations, trade and shipping between continents developed, the role of honorary consuls has increased in the last decades. Honorory Consuls intensify economic and cultural relations besides representing the interests of the sending country. In his recent speech during the Honorary Consuls meeting entitled; Enhancing Malta’s International Economic Profile, the Hon. George Vella, noted that it is important for Consuls to utilize their network of contacts and if need be extend them further to be able to add value to their role as Hon Consuls of Malta.  He also noted that often in business and everyday life, it is your contacts that clinch a deal.  From a mere reference letter to a short introduction – often this is all it takes to sow the seeds of a successful partnership or project. Indeed, Consuls can be of assistance to micro enterprises through their contacts, access to the specific market and their knowledge of the market and country. Moreover, their endorsement provides a stronger weight to introductory letters. Embassies can also be of help. Although the role of ambassadors is more of a diplomatic nature, they have often played a critical role in assisting local companies to introduce and endorse companies as well as help organize presentations and meetings.

The Internet

The internet can also serve as a business networking tool. Indeed the internet offers access to various social networks that potentially lead to collaborations and form part of an entrepreneur’s broader business network that facilitates exploration of internationalisation opportunities culminated by successful entry into these foreign markets. The internet also provides data on potential clients or partners and offers mediums to communicate in a cost effective manner.

With networking, you get back what you put in. Thus local micro enterprises are called need to better understand the importance of networking and the type of investment it requires. They need to understand that the company’s internationalisation process will not take place unless there is a concrete investment in time, perseverance and above all a sharp eye to identify the right networking opportunities.