When I worked at a large agency, I looked at networking far differently. As an employee of someone else’s business, I looked at these events as a chance for a free meal, to get out of the office and to catch up with my favorite media pals. Sure we talked business but business development was, in my mind, not necessarily my department. Looking back now, it’s easy to see how I missed so many opportunities.
Now that I am operating my own business and there is little separation between my “real life” & my “work life”, I am far more aware of just how important the networking piece can be to a small business…to any business, really. Networking, whether organized or not, is, in fact, essential to your growth and ultimate survival. You need to make strategic contacts & develop working relationships to operate and succeed. Very few businesses can say with a straight face that they did it all on their own!
Networking needs to be a consistent priority on your schedule as important as business development, sales, merchandising, marketing, operations; as it calls on all of those skills.
Want to get started? Here’s how to become a successful, networking business owner.
Seek out and join business associations. Focus on your local business district, industry associations and groups that offer support and networking opportunities for small business owners and entrepreneurs. Get involved. Volunteer and be present. Increasing your visibility within your immediate community can be a game changer.
Be strategic in terms of what events you can and should attend. There will be a million networking breakfasts and meet & greets and a million more after that. Schedule time each month for a couple of events – 2 or 3 is plenty. Find the events that will be most helpful to you and your business and put it on your calendar.
Make sure your social media channels are up to date and active, especially LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. These are the first places that people will go to find out more information about you and your business.
Prepare for each event. Determine a list of attendees and do your research. Find connections that can be conversation starters.
Take interest in others’ businesses. Look for opportunities to help others. This speaks volumes about your personal brand and what it’s like to be part of your network. Networking is one of those things; You Get Out of It What You Put Into It.
Be open, genuine, approachable & engage! Market yourself & your business when possible; Have your elevator pitch ready and use it when appropriate! Be confident; networking can be your most powerful marketing tool but make sure you having genuine interactions. The business connections will come…networking events are more than just a business card swap!
Follow up. With 48 hours, reach out to those contacts that offer the most promising connections. Set up a follow up meeting
So what are you waiting for? Get out there. Meet people. Become visible in your business community. Develop working relationships with individuals whose skill set and business approach compliments yours. Help other small business owners get their ventures off the ground. Put yourself out there and the return will be tenfold….Good luck and don’t forget your business cards!