Mention networking and I often see the person I’m talking to squirm uncomfortably. Building relationships with other business owners, customers, and industry professionals can help you grow your business, expand your customer base, and gain valuable insights and advice, but it’s not something that everyone feels comfortable with doing. Despite this, it’s more important than ever to build a strong network of contacts and maintain those relationships over time in today’s fast-paced and competitive business world.
So, what makes it such a critical part of your small business strategy?
Increased visibility and exposure: Networking provides an opportunity for you to increase visibility and exposure to potential customers, partners, and investors. By actively participating in local business events, online communities, and industry groups, you can get your business name and brand in front of a wider audience furthering your opportunity to build sales.
Access to new customers: Building relationships with other business owners can lead to new customers and sales opportunities. For example, you may meet a business owner who is looking for a product or service that you offer, or they may refer you to someone in their network who needs your services. Customers can come both directly and indirectly from the relationships that you build.
Sharing of knowledge and insights: Networking with other business owners can also provide valuable insights and advice. You can learn about the latest trends and best practices in your industry, and gain new ideas for growing and improving your business. Many of the industry buying groups and meetings are as much about what you can gain from a coffee or drink with colleagues as what you may get directly from the event itself.
Building a support network: The last three years has highlighted the importance of a strong support network. Networking can help you build the support of other business owners and professionals who can provide support and advice when you need it. This can be especially valuable when you’re facing a challenging business issue or decision. As the old saying goes – a problem shared is a problem halved!
Some Tips for Successful Networking
Be yourself: It’s important to be yourself and build relationships based on trust and authenticity. People are more likely to do business with someone they like and trust, so be genuine and show a genuine interest in others. Don’t feel being an introvert will restrict you.
Be prepared: It works for scouts and it can work for you! Before attending a networking event, research the attendees and the purpose of the event, and come prepared with a clear idea of what you want to achieve. Have business cards and a clear, concise elevator pitch to quickly introduce yourself and your business.
Focus on building relationships: Networking is not just about selling or promoting your business, it’s about building relationships. Take the time to get to know the people you meet, and follow up with them after the event to continue the conversation.
Offer value: When networking it’s important to offer value to others. This can include sharing your knowledge and expertise, making introductions to others in your network, and offering to help in any way you can. By offering value to others you will establish yourself as a valuable member of the community and increase your chances of success. For more help with this an excellent book is The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann.
Attend regular events: To be effective, networking should be a regular part of your business strategy. Attend regular events and join industry groups and online communities to meet new people and build relationships over time.
Follow up: After attending a networking event, follow up with the people you met. This could include sending a personalized email or LinkedIn message, or scheduling a coffee or lunch meeting to continue the conversation. Following up will help you build deeper relationships and increase your chances of success.
Networking is a critical component of success for small business owners. Building relationships with other business owners, customers, and industry professionals can help you grow your business, expand your customer base, and gain valuable insights and advice. By following these tips and making networking a regular part of your business strategy, you can build a strong network of contacts and achieve success in your business endeavors.