Networking is all about making valuable connections that will benefit you as an entrepreneur and increase the success of your small business. Here’s how to start taking advantage of effective business marketing.
Small business networking – the process by which business owners establish mutually beneficial relationships with other entrepreneurs, community members, clients and potential customers – has always been essential to the economy and to the survival of “mom and pop” companies far and wide. Of course, it goes without saying that networking and maintaining such crucial relationships has become more important than ever before, due to the added hardships many establishments have faced throughout the course of this year.
It’s important to realize that, as a small business owner, one of the many hats you must wear is brand ambassador for your company, and that networking is all about the scaling and awareness of your brand. Not only can it help you grow your customer base and generate referrals, but it can also provide numerous opportunities for learning, development and growth.
To reap the benefits of small business networking — and in turn, building a network — it’s important to first understand the benefits you can gain and how they can enable you to increase company awareness, boost sales, increase efficiency and more.
What is Small Business Networking and How Does It Work?
As we already touched on, small business networking refers to meeting other business owners, vendors, suppliers, industry professionals, consumers or other professionals who have similar knowledge, experiences and/or interests as you and your business and can become a valuable connection and resource to you. Networking opens you up to a pool of experts that range from competitors to clients and allows you to offer something to them. In exchange, they will also likely be able to offer you something, perhaps their experience, time, services, advice, knowledge or contacts.
Where Does Networking Happen?
Networking events happen all the time and might take shape in various ways. This year, we have seen an increase in virtual work gatherings and digital meetups across live-streaming platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Online business forums and chats are also a great place to meet fellow small business professionals during times when meeting in-person isn’t always a viable option.
Of course, in-person networking is always preferred, if able to be carried out safely and responsibly. In-person networking might come in the form of business seminars, industry associations, coworking spaces, volunteer opportunities/philanthropic events or networking group meetups.
Whether in-person or virtually, networking events are designed to present you with opportunities for connection. These events are generally put together to introduce new concepts and methods that can be shared and discussed among like-minded industry professionals while providing a platform for such people to meet and exchange ideas.
When you meet another small business professional or potential client who you believe will be a valuable contact to keep, be sure to exchange information. This might come in the form of business cards, exchanging emails, LinkedIn profiles, phone numbers, etc. Be sure to follow up with those connections in the following days to reintroduce yourself, your business and to discuss points or topics brought up in conversations you might have had with them.
After a few conversations with a new contact, you might be able to bring up the issues you are facing or pitch them an idea or partnership that you have in mind. Most entrepreneurs are generally optimistic, positive and just as eager to make new connections as you are. Regular engagement with such colleagues can be a great morale boost, particularly in these times. Networking, making, and nurturing these connections should prove to be very valuable to you and your business over time.
More Benefits of Networking
Aside from the connection, networking your small business might also put you into contact with professional mentors or more experienced business professionals who can guide you on your path as you build and grow your business. These mentors might also be able to assist with certain problems or challenges you face as your business moves forward. For example, if your business needs the services of a bookkeeper, accountant or lawyer — a service you’ve never previously needed before — there might be a member in your network who has a reliable contact that they can share with you. Maybe you’ll find the ideal candidate to fill a position within your company through your network. If your business needs equity financing, you might be able to find an investor or venture capitalist through networking channels.
Bottom line: Networking is all about expanding your knowledge by taking advantage of the viewpoints and prior experience of others in situations like your own. Your network is literally there for your benefit. The experience of networking for your small business is what you make of it and can do wonders for your success if you put the right effort in and take the time to make valuable connections.