At its core, networking is about meeting people and expanding your circle so you can get more done and make a more extensive impact. Often viewed as a helpful tool for job seekers who need to connect with hiring managers, networking is just as critical for entrepreneurs to grow their businesses too.
Think about it. A successful business relies on the support of many people. And since networking is about bringing new people into the fold, it stands to reason building a business network could be a big boost for you as a small business owner. When you network effectively, your fledgling enterprise can take root and flourish.
Benefits of Networking as a Small Business Owner
Before we get into the tactical ins and outs of how to network as an entrepreneur, let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits:
1. Find People You Need
Connecting with people who can help expand your business is the most obvious benefit of networking. But there are some subtleties of networking you may not expect.
Of course, you’re always on the prowl for potential sources of revenue — either from the people in your network directly or by way of referrals. But the community you cultivate can also link you up with suppliers, service providers, mentors/coaches, business partners, employees, or investors that can take your enterprise to the next level.
Also, you’ll find kindred spirits who genuinely understand what it means to be an entrepreneur — folks who can empathize with your struggles, help you celebrate your wins, and relight your fire when your motivation wanes.
Sometimes, you may attract and enlist the people you need the first time you attend a networking event or reach out to someone. However, it’s far more likely you’ll develop a bench of key players and a pipeline of clients gradually. Your network may also serve as an incubator for future resources you don’t even know you need yet.
2. Get Your Name Out There
When you network, people get to know you and your business. Over time, you go from the new face in the crowd to a regular fixture within the community. With each elevator pitch you make or conversation you strike up, you have an opportunity to position yourself as a subject matter expert or the go-to person in your field.
If you network regularly and continuously foster the relationships you establish, you’ll remain top of mind with your connections. That means the next time they need something (or hear that someone else needs something) you can help with, you’ll be the first person they call. This opportunity can further illustrate your expertise, broaden your network, and possibly put dollars into your bank account.
3. Stay Current and Grow
One of the greatest benefits of a business network is the hive mind it offers to its members. The cumulative education and experience are immense, making it inevitable that you’ll be exposed to new ideas as you meet other professionals and business owners.
If you’re open to the potential growth, your point of view will expand, illuminating markets, product offerings, and ways of doing things that were previously hidden to you.
4. Give Back to Your Community
Effective networking involves a lot of “give and take” — with a focus on giving.
If you have a purely ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude, you ultimately won’t get much out of the experience because others will quickly sense your selfishness. But, if you’re genuinely generous, you’ll be rewarded with strong business connections which will go out of their way to help you whenever possible — because you’ve done the same for them.
It will also feel fantastic to help other business owners be successful because you know how hard they work and how meaningful their contributions are to society.
How to Network as an Entrepreneur to Grow Your Business
Now that we’ve looked at the ways networking can positively impact your small business, let’s discuss how you can truly leverage it for growth:
(Spoiler: If you’ve networked to find a job before, many of the same principles apply here, too.)
1. Find Networking Opportunities
It may sound obvious, but the first thing you need to do is identify potential networking opportunities that align with your business. The key here is to actively put yourself in the vicinity of your prospects so you can meet them, help them, and ultimately become known within that circle.
Depending on your budget, schedule, ability to travel, and the systems you currently have in place, consider the following options to grow your business network:
- Attending conferences or trade shows attracting other brands or professionals you could partner with, learn from, or serve.
- Joining professional organizations that can both connect you with clients and keep your skills sharp.
- Visiting local business-oriented entities, like the Chamber of Commerce, to forge relationships in your city.
- Leveraging your online presence to meet others via social media, forums, your blog, or other web-based avenues.
2. Have a Plan
Before attending a business networking event or reaching out to someone, you must determine what your objective is.
If this is your first contact with a person or a group, your mission may be to simply introduce yourself and have a positive initial conversation. If you’ve been attending a particular meeting or interacting with an individual for a while, you could plan to ask for a referral, offer your services, or gauge interest in a potential business partnership.
Whatever your situation is, knowing what you want to accomplish through networking for your business is critical to assessing the success of your efforts.
3. Take a Blended Approach
The ability of the internet to help you join forces or share resources around the globe is an amazing phenomenon — and it absolutely has a place in your networking strategy. However, you shouldn’t neglect the potential of your local market or ignore the power of face-to-face communication.
Technology can help you cast an extensive net through channels like social media, email, online groups, and your website. But these mediums can take a while to build up and could lead to one-time, transactional types of relationships.
With in-person meetings, your chances of forging instant and deeper relationships improve; which could result in quicker, yet extended wins to grow your business. Since your goal is to keep expanding your reach and revenue, experiment with different approaches until you find the right mix of live and online networking for your enterprise.
4. Communicate What You Do Clearly
You know this all too well, but it bears repeating: business owners and professionals are busy. When you interact with them, you must succinctly articulate what you do so they can quickly assess if you can help one another.
Before networking, you should develop your elevator pitch, which is exactly how it sounds. Imagine you’re on an elevator with someone you’d like to meet and have just a few moments to convey what you’re all about to them. To accomplish this, you must choose words that best capture the essence of you and your business.
Practice delivering your elevator pitch to family and friends so you can do so confidently at your next meet-up. You should also have business cards or media kits available to hand out or send digitally so your new connections can remember you after the fact.
5. Offer Assistance to Your Network First
Remember, effective networking involves a lot of giving. To build credibility, trust, and goodwill, offer your assistance to other group members before asking them for anything.
Listen to learn about the business challenges others are facing and ask open-ended questions to get to know them better. Show genuine curiosity and interest. Listening first can help you build more productive professional relationships.
If you have information that could help them, share it. If you could use their goods or services, buy from them. Either way, they’ll remember your generosity and may return the favor later.
6. Always Follow-Up
Just because a conversation or meeting is over, doesn’t mean the relationship-building efforts should stop. In fact, following up with your new business connections is a critical component of networking. When done right, you’ll truly be of service to them and remain top of mind for future opportunities.
Effective follow-up begins during the networking event.
After each conversation, take a moment to jot down a couple of key points about the person. Later, you can refer back to those notes and make your follow-up efforts more meaningful. This could include sending them an article they may find interesting or linking them up with a referral. Or even inquiring about their business services personally.
Remember, though — while following up with people as you meet them is essential, so is nurturing your existing business relationships.
7. Learn and Adapt
Whether you’re new to networking or you’re a seasoned pro, you always have room to improve. Over time, you’ll realize what works for you and what doesn’t. In response, you’ll develop tricks to both enhance your strengths and accommodate your needs.
For example, if you’re an introvert, you may decide to grow your network more online or join smaller live groups. Or step away from the crowd periodically to reflect and recharge. No matter your skill level or networking style, continuous introspection is necessary so you can learn from any mistakes you make and effectively adapt to change.
Final Thoughts on Networking to Grow Your Business
Building a supportive business network doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process that takes a lot of effort and is very much a long game. However, if you invest the time, you will ultimately derive a tremendous benefit. You’ll enjoy a community of people who want you to succeed and will give of themselves to help you grow your business. All you need to do is start.
Article written by Laura