Over the course of the last few decades, networking has gained a significant deal of traction as a marketing tool for small businesses. One may argue that the fact that the popularity of networking events for startups and small firms is on the rise only attests to the advantages of the marketing tool in question. However, there is still a need for extensive research on how precisely networking affects small firm’s growth and development when implemented in the marketing strategy.
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This paper aims at critically analysing the 2014 study “The Contribution of Networking to Small Firm Marketing” by O’Donnell and discussing the implications of its findings for contemporary marketing practices.
Lately, it has been widely accepted that business networking is integral to small business management. According to Ford and Mouzas (2013), networking takes place when an actor endeavours to develop, change and govern the process of interaction in the business landscape. At that, networking aids the development of various aspects of a small firm, including business activities, resources and staff members (Schoonjans & Cauwenberge, 2013).
Andersen and Medlin (2016) describe a business network as an autonomous, self-regulatory system that undergoes shifts and changes. Evidently, recent research has had a primary focus on the concept of networking. Thus, the rationale of O’Donnell’s study is justified by the necessity to describe “the contents of networking links” (O’Donnell, 2014, p. 164). The research question may be composed as follows: “What are the concrete benefits of networking for small firm marketing?”.
The literature review outlines key concepts that are essential for understanding the issue. O’Donnell (2014) goes into detail, describing the contents of networking and their value for a small firm. The researcher points out the primary differences between large firm and small firm marketing, with the latter being defined through limited resource management (O’Donnell, 2014). Lastly, O’Donnell (2014) explores the concepts of the small firm marketing network and network contents (p. 166). The literature review is well-structured, contains references to the sources that pertain to the subject matter and lay a logical foundation for the study.
However, one should note that the studies cited are not quite recently, with a significant share of them conducted in the last century. When discussing business research methods, Hair (2015) emphasises the rapid changes in the business world that oblige a researcher to operate up-to-date information. The necessity to use relevant data due to the ever-changing nature of the business environment has also been emphasised by Bryman and Bell (2015). On the other hand, the use of the sources cited in the body of the paper might be justified by the relevancy of information that still applies to current business processes.
The study may be put under the cross-sectional survey category since it employs a series of interviews to define characteristics of a specific group of a population at a particular point in time. Usually, a cross-sectional survey operates a limited number of cases which enables a researcher to gain in-depth information. Bell, Bryman and Harley (2018) outline three main issues linked to cross-sectional studies: reliability, replicability, and validity.
In the case of O’Donnell’s study, it is crucial to note that in the process of the interview, the participants are likely to share their subjective perception, which compromises reliability. O’Donnell’s study has a high degree of replicability since the design and research procedures are clearly defined. Internal validity is moderate: O’Donnell explains the link between networking and benefits for a small firm (word-of-mouth recommendations, competitor knowledge, and so on). However, the relationship might not showcase causality but a mere association between a factor and an outcome.
O’Donnell (2014) used convenience sampling in which thirty small companies in Northern Ireland were picked manually based on specific criteria. This choice of a sampling method has its advantages and disadvantages. The main downside is that convenience sampling has a rather small potential for being representative, and thus, the statistical data is rarely inferential (Lin & Ting, 2013). As for the virtues, one should note that in this case, this sampling method is justified since the researcher needed to interview small businesses, for which she elaborated criteria as to what counts as a small business. Unfortunately, the sampling is non-randomised, which compromises its external validity.
The study’s findings directly correspond to the research question and are revelatory for me in terms of the complexity of the impact that networking may have. O’Donnell’s study showed that networking evenly contributes to all aspects of small firm marketing. Moreover, the outcomes of any activity that a small firm marketing board might undertake might be enhanced through networking. It was established that the advantages were aligned with communication, exchange, and normative networking content concepts. Communication refers to the information that a small business accumulates about customers and competitors, whereas exchange deals with finding and sharing resources. Within the normative contents of networking, expectations, motivations, and outcomes are defined. One may conclude that networking encourages entrepreneurial behaviour, which significantly influences marketing thought and practice.
A study by Dick, Boling, and Burns (2014) revealed the same benefits and small businesses’ awareness of them, which, however, did not always compel them to take action. On the contrary, sometimes, the implementation of networking was active but not conscious as it was caused by anxiety (Durkin, McGowan, & McKeown, 2013). Janasova, Bobanova, and Strelcova (2017) also highlighted the efficiency of connection building through networking and stated that firm ties might decrease market risks for SME. It is evident that SME across the world are aware of networking whether they employ this marketing tool or not.
O’Donnell’s study was chosen due to the relevancy of the issue since networking plays a significant role in today’s business environment. When developing a marketing strategy, a small firm may consider the study’s findings and incorporate networking due to its benefits. Networking often takes place inadvertently, and actors make connections accidentally. Small firms should execute more self-agency in building a robust business network and diversifying networking methods, be it using social media or visiting real-life events.
Andersen, P. H., & Medlin, C. J. (2016). Transient commitments and dynamic business networking. Industrial Marketing Management, 58, 11-19.
Bell, E., Bryman., A. & Harley, B. (2018). Business research methods. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
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Bryman, A., & Bell, E. (2015). Business research methods. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
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Durkin, M., McGowan, P., & McKeown, N. (2013) Exploring social media adoption in small to medium-sized enterprises in Ireland. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 20(4), 716-734.
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Janasova, D., Bobanova, V., & Strelcova, S. (2017). Networking of small and medium enterprises into clusters in the Slovak Republic. Procedia Engineering, 192, 370-375.
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Schoonjans, B., & Cauwenberge, P. (2013). Formal business networking and SME growth. Small Business Economics, 41(1), 169-181.