As a small business owner, networking is an investment of your precious and limited time. But it’s also a key element of being a successful leader. Use this guide to get started making the most of networking events to make meaningful connections and help your business grow.
One of the many hats you’ll wear as a small business owner is that of a brand ambassador. No one knows or loves your company as well as you do, so it’s crucial to be your own biggest fan. Though talking about your business either in professional or social settings can be intimidating, there are endless benefits that help both your business and you as an entrepreneur. Get started becoming a networking pro by utilizing this Small Business Networking Resource Guide.
Top 6 Benefits of Business Networking
Not surprisingly, building a strong, positive reputation for your business is paramount for growth — small businesses live and die by their reputation. But this is only one of the many benefits of networking as a business owner. Here’s a look at some of the most important of the many reasons you should invest your time in networking as a business owner.
1. Building a Professional Community
It sounds obvious to mention that building a professional network is a benefit of networking, but it’s important to point out how crucial this is for sustained success as a business owner. Meeting with other business owners or industry professionals helps you stay current on industry trends and local legislation that might impact your operations. You’ll also have an instant support group of people who genuinely understand your struggles, have been there themselves, and can help you problem solve. Don’t be afraid to lean on other professionals as you grow as an entrepreneur — being opening minded and knowing what you don’t know is a sign of strength.
2. Opportunities to Collaborate
Your skills and strengths as a business owner are likely very different from other professionals in your network. Even if your business is in the same industry or in a similar function to someone else’s, it’s always smart to keep an eye out for chances to collaborate. For example, you could sponsor an event together or co-promote your services. Better yet, maybe you can create a referral program between your two companies. These opportunities all come more naturally when you’ve built a strong professional network.
3. Continuing Education
Consistent networking also provides a platform for both formal and informal continuing education opportunities. Whether you’re discussing common challenges with peers or discovering new industry events, take a life-long learner approach to networking.
4. Recruiting Opportunities
Hiring the right people for your growing team is one of the most difficult parts of entrepreneurship. Whether you end up hiring one of your new connections or get a referral from a trusted peer, networking can help ease the burden of sourcing and hiring.
5. Potential New Clients
A pleasant benefit of meeting lots of new people and discussing your business is meeting potential clients. It’s typically best not to go into a networking conversation trying to sell your product or services, but if someone you meet is interested in learning more, have a quick business pitch ready and, of course, your business cards handy so you can set a follow up.
6. Improve Your Networking Abilities
Just like any other skill required to be a great business owner, practice makes perfect. Even though it can be uncomfortable or intimidating at first, stay motivated knowing that the more you network, the better you’ll get at it. Eventually, going to networking events will seem less like a task and will evolve into something you’re excited about because of the many benefits for you and your business.
Where to Network in Person
Putting a face to a name and a business is essential for both building a professional network and for building a loyal client base. Even though it takes time and energy, networking in person is crucial to your entrepreneurial development. Consider starting with these types of networking events to get your face and your business out there.
Industry-specific speaking engagements are a great place to network because you get the benefits of both continuing education and of meeting industry peers. Look for speaking engagements and panel discussions that are of genuine interest to you. Don’t be afraid to participate in the Q & A sessions and stick around for the networking session. It’s also a great idea to apply to speak on industry panels; this helps your business’s brand, your own professional brand, and opens the door to meeting more people.
If you’re not sure where to look for events in your area, start with coworking offices. These spaces, which are built for solopreneurs and small businesses to work without the commitment of leasing or renting a long-term space, regularly host a variety of networking events. Though big cities tend to have the most options for coworking spaces, organizations like WeWork, The Riveter, and Galvanize are popping up in both metropolitan and more rural areas.
Professional Networking Events
Because there are an abundance of benefits in building your professional network, many organizations will host gatherings and happy hours specifically for professionals to meet. Do a quick search online for events in your area, check on social media, or ask business owners in your area to find one near you. If the type of event you’re looking for isn’t available, don’t be afraid to host the event yourself.
If you’re asked to share your expertise as a professional in as a volunteer, say yes when you can. Not only is it a good deed, but it’s a great chance to meet like minded professionals and even potential clients.
How to Network Online
The important of putting a face to the name of your business in person extends to your online networks. While it’s always important to make in-person introductions, small business owners can leverage the power of social media platforms to make connections across the globe and grow a far-reaching audience. Take a look at these tips for networking online.
Networking on LinkedIn
When thoughtfully utilized, LinkedIn is a powerful tool, especially for entrepreneurs. You can, and should, leverage LinkedIn for your business both with an inviting profile for yourself and a uniquely curated page for your business. When working to build your professional network on LinkedIn keep these best practices in mind.
- Be an active user. Regularly sharing thoughtful commentary, posting relevant content, and interacting with others helps to achieve your personal brand, so others understand who they’re networking with. Also, the LinkedIn algorithm favors activity – meaning the more active users are more likely to show up in their connection’s feeds. Just be careful not to over-post; the general rule of thumb many social media marketers use is to post no more than once a day. But feel free to comment, like, and engage in other ways as much as you’d like.
- Network intentionally. It’s tempting on LinkedIn to see someone’s profile you admire and send a request to connect without much thought. However, rather than just ‘collecting’ connections, ask yourself how the relationship is mutually beneficial.
- Personalize. When you do reach out to a new connection, add a personal note introducing yourself and explaining why you’d like to connect professionally.
- Join groups. Groups on LinkedIn offer great opportunity for focused networking. To find the right one for you, you can search for groups using keywords or browse LinkedIn’s recommendations for you.
- Keep it professional. Keep in mind that even though you’re utilizing your personal profile to network and make new connections on LinkedIn, you’re acting as the face of your business. Seek to establish yourself as a thought-leader in your space and stay away from unprofessional commentary or sharing personal updates that don’t relate back to your business.
Other Social Media Networks
Though your business is likely using multiple social media platforms for building brand awareness and connecting with customers, LinkedIn is definitely the main platform you should use for professional networking. If you utilize other platforms for personal use, keep in mind that no matter where you are, you’re the face of your business. If you want to keep your other social media platforms for personal use only, then it’s best to set them to private and to only connect with people you already have a personal relationship with.
While networking isn’t just about selling — it’s about making meaningful connections — it is important to know how to discuss your business in way that highlights your value proposition. And though it wouldn’t be appropriate to carry around a pitch deck to most networking events, you should have a well rehearsed “elevator pitch” that you’re comfortable with jumping into with no warning. Keep these tips in mind when crafting your networking-ready business pitch.
- Keep it short and sweet. Ideally, your initial pitch will lead to longer conversations about your company but construct a networking pitch that’s around 200 to 300 words in length – it keeps things conversational.
- Differentiate yourself. Whether you’re networking or sharing a pitch deck in front of a crowded conference room, your pitch should always address two things: How your business solves an existing problem and how your solution or offerings are different than your competitors.
- Know your ideal audience. Many small business owners make the early mistake of assuming everyone is their ideal client, but this is rarely the case. The ability to describe your target audience and provide insights on your niche market will show you have a well-developed business plan
- End with a call to action. If it’s appropriate for the setting you’re in — if you’re speaking to a potential, client, vendor, investor, etc. — ask for more time to talk or exchange contact numbers. Essentially, if the conversation is going well, don’t let it end there.
3 Big Mistakes to Avoid When Networking
In general, networking as a small business owner is straightforward — connecting with likeminded professionals and serving as a brand ambassador for your company. While you should always be yourself, there are three major mistakes to avoid when networking.
1. Not Being Authentic
Don’t get too caught up in trying to sound like a business savvy genius anytime you strike up a new conversation with someone. Seek to learn and have authentic engaging conversations – it will lead to stronger business relationships.
2. Not Being Intentional
Once you get comfortable with networking and you have a solid business pitch in your pocket, set goals for networking so you can be intentional about spreading the good word about your business. Whether you’re looking to hire new people or meet investors, having a focus will help you choose the right kind of event and guide your conversations.
3. Not Following Through
If you exchange business cards with someone at an industry event or connect on LinkedIn, follow up with a plan to meet for coffee or another way continue building your relationship. Even a quick note saying it was nice to meet them with a specific detail about your conversation is a good way to lay a foundation for future talks.
Even though it can be intimidating or awkward at first, networking is an essential element of small business leadership. Stay open to attending new types of events, come ready to talk about the unique qualities of your business, and always follow up with new connections for networking success.