The African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if your want to go far, go together,” applies to many situations in life, especially business.
That can be a problem for solo entrepreneurs and remote workers.
Janine Garner, author of “It’s who you know,” describes how 12 carefully chosen contacts can fast-track our success.
With social media, that’s easy, right?
Turns out not so.
Because while thousands of LinkedIn connections look great, they do nothing for our bottom line.
Networking for small business success is about meeting the right people, nurturing those relationships, and creating diversity, which, in return, creates opportunities to achieve our professional goals.
Together we’ll find out how you do it like a pro.
Why is Networking Important for Small Businesses?
Networking enables us to find new customers, make meaningful connections, and gain insights into our industry.
And to collaborate with other professionals, learn from their experiences, and achieve business exposure, increasing public awareness of our brands.
And all of these can help increase our profits!
That’s why; now, here’s the how:
Know What Networking Can do for You
Like anything, to get what you want, you must know what you want.
For instance, would you enter a relationship without knowing what type of person you want?
Many of us make that mistake. I did, and it never ends well.
Now, I list attributes a potential partner must have (positive, smart, and a great sense of humor) based on what I want from a new relationship.
Networking’s similar and can only help when you know what you want from connections.
Meet an influential mentor
Meeting an influential mentor who provides advice and wisdom is priceless for any new business owner. They can save you time and money by teaching you what not to do.
Find potential partners
Many small businesses rely on reliable partners to make their business work. Yours might be a supplier, retailer, logistics company, or legal advisor; networking events are where you’ll find them.
Build your brand awareness
Most businesses rely on their branding to engage and convert their target audience. Connecting with other influential brands within your industry is an excellent way to encourage word-of-mouth marketing and positive referrals.
And the best part is its free advertising from trusted sources, which is priceless.
Increase your sales
What business doesn’t want more sales? Networking and relevant events create opportunities to meet new clients and increase business sales. But only if you know how to promote your business so it sells itself!
I’ll explain how next:
Tips for Networking Success
Most of us know at least one charming person; social events look effortless, smiling, laughing, and chatting with people from all walks of life.
Here’s the thing: not all charming people are how they appear; many just know how to play a role.
Networking, like social events, is a game; you must approach it like a professional and play by the rules.
Always walk in prepared, expecting to walk out with eager new contacts and clients because when you believe in yourself, others will too.
Here’s your network game plan:
1. Have a strategy
Before implementing a strategy to gain the most from a networking event, you must know your goals.
For example, yours might be to make connections and raise your business profile, learn new skills and discover the latest must-haves in your marketplace, or get referrals and increase your income.
Whatever your goals, have a strategy to maximize opportunities when they present themselves.
2. Know your worth
Those 3 words could be the most important in this post because if you don’t know your value, no one else will.
You could have an excellent product or service, but you must back them up with self-belief so others buy into your business idea.
We’re not talking about arrogance, which sucks. It’s about being articulate and explaining your offering simply and informally.
Dragons’ Den is an example; entrepreneurs who cannot explain clearly, back up their figures, or lack self-belief never get investment.
The next tip will tell you how:
3. Pitch perfect
Have you heard of an elevator pitch? It’s a simple, to-the-point description of what your business does and why it does it.
To create yours, consider why you’re in business, who you serve, their pain points, how your company solves them, and why they’ll choose you and not your competitors.
Then, put each reason into concise sentences describing your mission and how you’ll achieve it. Be ready for questions and provide factual answers, not hopeful fiction.
4. Be authentic and confident
When networking, authenticity, and confidence are crucial because people gravitate toward you when you’re genuine and secure.
This confidence comes from within and helps you engage in conversations, communicate your skills and services, and make a good impression. But don’t confuse it with arrogance; it’s about being comfortable and showing others what you can do.
Building relationships is how you network successfully; being authentic and confident helps you achieve this. But to pull this off, be true to yourself and don`t pretend to be someone you’re not.
The first 4 tips were about you and your business; the next explains how to promote them.
5. Know your networking etiquette
“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression,”-The late, great Will Rogers.
And people do judge us at first sight and upon our first words.
So choose wisely, and never appear like an aggressive salesperson or push your business info onto anyone. Take the time to create relationships where passing your business card is a natural conversation progression.
Always listen to others before talking about yourself unless someone asks you a direct question. Have your pitch ready and turn the conversation back to others to discover how your business will solve their problems.
Networking is about helping others; in return, you’ll meet the right people and make those important contacts.
Avoid coming across like a 2nd hand car salesperson; listen, learn, and provide valuable information when it’s your turn to talk.
6. Focus on building relationships, not selling
Networking is about connecting with others and creating positive associations with your business. Because when people know, like, and trust you, they’ll hire, refer, and collaborate with you.
Get to know your future clients by finding mutual likes and interests, then build authentic relationships that project a positive image of your brand.
And remember, no one enjoys being sold to, so let it happen organically.
7. Listen intently
Networking is just like a first date. It’s not all about you!
Listening is one of the oldest rules for creating meaningful relationships and requires a genuine interest in everyone you meet. Find that common ground, and learn about their goals because you might be in business if they’re similar!
To start conversations, ask open-ended questions that avoid yes or no answers, like who, how, and why.
8. Be positive
Positivity is infectious, and people gravitate toward those who project it.
That sounds great, but what if you’re introverted or uncomfortable in enormous crowds?
I’m both, and I recently gave a 3500-word eulogy at my father’s funeral to 400 people. Against the odds, I nailed it and got a 2-minute ovation.
I managed by focusing on how he lived his life and, most importantly, why.
You can do the same when networking by remembering why you started your business, then positivity will take care of itself.
9. Offer value and help others
Offering value and helping others is another crucial step in successful networking.
Value shows your expertise and establishes you as a go-to authority in your industry, essential for building strong relationships and creating new opportunities.
Because we all remember those, who help us, right?
And offering free advice or connections are two ways to encourage positive word-of-mouth and referrals, which can help grow your business.
By offering value and helping others, you create a positive image for your business and establish yourself as someone they can trust.
10. Follow up with contacts
Follow up with contacts after networking events to ensure they remember and consider you the next time they need a business like yours.
Send a LinkedIn connection request, email them, thank them for their time, or schedule a meeting to discuss potential business opportunities. Following up can also increase the likelihood that they’ll refer you to others in their network.
To maximize the benefits of following up, be personal, confident, and concise in your communication.
Where to Find Networking Opportunities
Today, thanks to the internet, many networking resources are available that suit all small business owners.
Here are some of the best:
11. Professional organizations and associations
Many organizations offer networking events and opportunities to connect with others in your industry; joining them is another excellent way to connect.
12. Online networking platforms
Networking platforms are excellent for connecting with others and growing your business by offering a vast network of professionals and providing opportunities to engage in virtual conversations, share content, and make connections.
Use platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to reach a wider audience and share your expertise with others by engaging in conversations and establishing yourself as someone to rely on.
13. Online communities and forums
Join online communities and forums relative to your industry to engage with others and share your knowledge and expertise.
14. Networking events and conferences
Another proven way to meet others in your industry, engage in business-building conversations, and learn from experts in your field are events and conferences.
But remember, you only get what you give, so make every interaction count and use the opportunity to expand your network and increase your business opportunities.
15. Networking websites and apps
Use networking websites and apps like LinkedIn, Meetup, and Bumble Bizz to connect with others in your industry.
16. Local Chamber of Commerce and business groups
Join your local chamber of commerce or business groups to find and network with other local business owners in your community. These groups often host networking events and are excellent for encouraging word-of-mouth marketing and getting referrals.
Networking Resources for Small Business Owners
- LinkedIn–Probably the most important professional networking platform that allows you to connect with others in your industry, share your expertise, and find new business opportunities.
- Meetup–Connects people with similar interests and allows them to organize and attend events.
- Industry Conferences-Bring together professionals in a specific industry to network, learn, and grow.
- Business Networking International (BNI)–A global organization that provides a platform for business owners to network, gain referrals, and learn from experts in their industry.
- Twitter and Facebook-Social platforms are great for connecting with others, sharing your thoughts and expertise with a large audience, and joining groups related to your industry.
- Online Business Directories–List local businesses and provide information about specific industries, such as Yelp for local businesses and Crunchbase for startups.
- Trade Shows and Industry specific events-Bring together businesses to showcase their products and services, network, and find new business opportunities.
Use the above resources to expand your network, find new business opportunities, and stay current with industry trends.
Learning to network like a professional isn’t rocket science, but it could backfire if you get it wrong.
Take it slow, be confident while genuine, know your business, listen to others, and give freely.
The results will amaze you.