Rob Hamilton is executive director of business networking and referral organisation BNI Scotland North, which has key groups in Aberdeen, Inverness and Tayside. He is also chief executive of Dynamic Edge, one of the largest independent IT firms in the North of Scotland.

The past few months, while undoubtedly tough for many businesses and individuals across the north of Scotland, have driven home a valuable reminder on the importance of not standing still.

Whether times are good or the economy is stuttering, as we have seen lately with the fall in the oil price, businesses should explore every available opportunity in order to maximise potential returns.

Regardless of their size or location, all businesses are having to work harder than ever before to maintain existing contracts and secure any new business.

Often, time spent away from the office is one of the first areas to be reined in when wider trading conditions get tough.

However, this neglects the important fact that, with greater competition for products and services, businesses need to take a proactive approach to ensure they stand out from the crowd.

With this in mind, networking should form an integral part of your company’s overall business development strategy. It presents a whole host of opportunities from seeking advice and sharing contacts to project collaborations and new ways of doing things.

Whether you are an established business or looking to start-up on your own, it’s vital to take steps to maintain or raise your profile.

In my experience, people continue to do business with people they know. In short, if you don’t put yourself out there to meet and interact with potential customers then they will simply take their business elsewhere.

There are many different business development and networking organisations out there, including BNI, Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce and Elevator, who can provide a valuable first point of call.

Some of these will, admittedly, work better for some than for others. It’s all about striking the right balance between how much time and resources you have available.

I’ve always been a firm believer that networking is not about instant gain; it’s very much a long-term process where you build and develop relationships with other like-minded people to achieve mutual goals.

By expanding your network of contacts, business people can help ensure they will be well placed to capitalise on potential opportunities that emerge both now and in the future.

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