Networking Tips for Small Business Owners
As a small business owner, it is important to network strategically to make connections and foster business relationships. Using small business networking techniques will elevate your business’s sales, connect you with customers and fellow business owners and help you to develop professional skills. Growing your business can be a challenge, but with strong networking skills, your business will benefit. Get your business ahead of the competition with these networking tips.
Determine your goals
Before attending events or meeting other professionals, you should identify what you’d like to accomplish. Do you want to gain more customers, recruit new hires, build relationships with other business owners, or simply spread the word about your company? These reasons will determine your networking strategy, and better prepare you for future interactions.
Practice small talk
Now that you’ve established your intentions, work on improving your communication skills so that you make a flattering first impression. Small talk isn’t as simple as it seems, and without practice you could find yourself rambling or looking unprepared. If possible, do research about attendees prior to meeting them and have go-to conversation topics readily available. Be engaged and ask open ended questions that will help you avoid getting basic “yes” or “no” answers. In addition, be able to convey exactly what your business does and how your company stands out in its specific industry. Nobody wants to talk to a boring, vague person at events, so do your best to stand out.
Ask family and friends for help
An easy way to approach business networking is to ask family and friends if they can connect you with people they know in your industry. If they give you someone’s contact information, make sure to mention the mutual connection when you reach out. This will maximize the likelihood that they respond, and be a good conversation starter.
Going to conferences is an ideal way to meet professionals who are also seeking networking opportunities. Attending events tailored to your field will allow you to learn information that you can apply to your small business, while meeting other business owners in your industry. In comparison, seeking out events for all industries will help you expand your customer base, and gain insight into how other businesses work. Even though events targeted to your type of business will provide you with new industry knowledge, some of these companies will probably be your competition; so don’t count on gaining new clients. Depending on what you want to accomplish from determine the types of events you should look into.
Follow up quickly
After an event, contact the people you met within 48 hours. This can also be applied to contacts your friends or family gives you. Instead of exchanging basic pleasantries, give a quick reminder of what you spoke about, especially if you discussed plans to collaborate or gain them as a customer. Adding recent acquaintances on LinkedIn is an easy way to start a business relationship, since you can view their qualifications and have a way to contact them. If you wait too long, they may forget about you, so send them a request soon after to ensure you are still fresh in their mind.
Join professional groups
Attending occasional events is beneficial, but make it a consistent effort by joining a few networking groups. There are a myriad of groups tailored to small business owners and specific industries, and you’ll be able to form long-lasting relationships with other members. In addition, these networking groups usually offer leadership positions, which can give you valuable skills transferable to your role as a small business owner.
When someone you know has a networking request, try your best to assist them. By taking the time to help someone with their career, they will be more likely to return the favor if you need their resources in the future. Whether it is connecting them with someone you know, writing them a recommendation on LinkedIn or advising them on their job search, helping others is a positive step for both you personally and your small business.
With these tips, you’ll be able to gain new customers and allies in the small business world. While business networking takes a lot of effort, it will benefit your company in the long run. Building strong business relationship takes time, but once you’ve mastered these basic tips, you’ll be acquiring helpful contacts in no time.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.