How to Network Like a Pro
- Networking allows you to develop relationships with peers, partners and customers who might help your business in the future.
- Make sure you stay in touch with your local community.
- Do a lot of your networking online–you can use sites such as Townsquare and SBA.
- Make sure you have personalized follow-ups.
As you know, your role as a small business owner does not stop as soon as you leave the office. Every interaction is a potential opportunity for your business. That is why networking is so important (and why you should have an effective, but brief elevator pitch). When you network, you are developing relationships with people who might be able to help you and your business in the future. You should view networking as an investment.
- Stay in touch with your local community. You might be surprised to learn how many other small-business owners live in your area. Stop by their stores and introduce yourself. Does their business’ value proposition fit yours? If so, strike up a conversation about doing a ‘Shop Local’ partnership during the holidays this year. For example, if someone buys goods at your store during a certain time period, they get a 25 percent off coupon for your neighbor’s store. Building and then strengthening relationships and partnerships with other small-business owners in your local community can only help drive business for you and the rest of your peers.
- Be active in online forums. Your online presence is immensely important, not only because it’s where many of your customers are searching for products and services, but because it’s also where small-business owners turn for information. By joining a small-business forum online, you’ll be able to gain insights from other entrepreneurs, engage in the group’s interactions, post comments and also share what you know. Other business owners in the group will start to notice your activities, and if they like you and what you do, they will add you as a business contact or ask to learn more. This alone is incredibly valuable and promotes online word-of-mouth about your business among potential customers and partners alike.
- Be unconventional. Be on the lookout for unique networking opportunities to grow your referral network in new ways. Think about it, in your everyday life, you are constantly on-the-go meeting new people. Why not use it as a form of networking? Use those pesky waiting lines at the DMV to strike up a conversation with someone else in line and see if it makes sense to mention your business. Other great places to start a dialogue include on an airplane or even at your local grocery store. Be friendly, outgoing and talk to the people around you. You never know what connection you might make for your business.
- Join social networking sites. You’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again—build your referral network and online presence through social networking sites. It’s really important to join the right networks for your business where you can help other small-business owners and they can help you in return. Networking sites are great places to grow your customer referral base, but these sites also provide a unique mentoring opportunity. You can connect with small-business owners who don’t live in your local community, but may run similar businesses and can share advice on what has worked for them.
- Follow up. This is an important element of both building and strengthening your referral network. Regardless of the type of networking, the key is quickly turning those new contacts into active connections in your network. Do this by practicing 24-hour follow-up. Reach out to new contacts (via e-mail is easiest) within a day of first meeting them. Mention the specifics of your conversation and the next steps you discussed. You both will appreciate the quick turnaround and now your network is one-person stronger.