Building a strong small business network is crucial for the success of a company. To improve your networking skills, follow these seven tips:
1. Have a strategy
For many small business owners, networking can be enjoyable. But, building your business network is not all fun and games. Approach your networking with a strategy that will help you reach your goals.
When creating a plan, figure out why you want to network. Are you trying to gain new contacts? Maybe you want to work on career development and learn from business advisers in your industry. You could network to become a thought leader and position yourself as an expert. Or, you might try to be a better leader and motivate your team.
Whatever the reason for networking, set goals to aim for and estimate the number of contacts you will need. Then, identify the kinds of people you need to meet. Review your networking efforts to see what strategies worked best.
2. Write an elevator pitch
An elevator pitch gives the people you meet a quick look at your business. It is a simple but powerful tool if used effectively. Include the following information in your pitch:
- Who you are
- What you do
- The problem you solve
- Who you serve
- What makes you different
- What you want to happen next
Use your elevator pitch for a concise and memorable way to explain your business. When presenting a pitch, you want to be comfortable, so practice so that it sounds natural. And, make sure the pitch reflects your brand.
3. Be a good listener
When it comes to networking, you need to listen to what other people are saying. Peers and potential clients can offer valuable insights that will help you make better business decisions. Show that you’re interested in conversations, and be a good listener.
During networking events, try to listen more than speak. Also, ask open-ended questions rather than ones that require “yes” or “no” answers. After each conversation, make notes about what you talked about.
4. Create lasting impressions
Good first impressions are an important part of networking—so are good second impressions, and third impressions, and so on. Whether you’re meeting someone for the first time or talking to someone you’ve known for 15 years, be courteous and professional.
You also should be personable when you meeting with your connections. Even though you’re in a business setting, don’t be afraid to be warm and engaging; tell a personal story when it’s relevant. Your network should be built on people you want to work with and people who want to work with you.
5. Get involved
Small business owners have the advantage of creating connections within their neighborhoods. A strong network of businesses within a community creates a healthy local economy, and becoming a part of your community will help your business and others succeed.
Be an active player in your local business scene. Volunteer and attend local events that give back to the community. Support other small businesses by shopping locally and becoming a member of your local chamber of commerce. You can even partner up with another company to mutually benefit. Attend conferences, host a networking event, and participate in trade shows. Make an effort to meet new people and don’t hide in the corner.
6. Have an online presence
No matter the size of your business, it’s crucial to have a presence on the internet. Use online channels to network with potential and existing customers, as well as other business owners.
Social media websites let you participate in ongoing conversations with people in your network. Engage customers through social media by sharing interesting information and details about your business. Users can contact you via social media, ask you questions, and share reviews.
Join online communities and forum conversations that are relevant to your business. Don’t post to sell your products or services. Instead, ask questions to learn from other business owners, and offer advice when you can.
7. Follow up
As you build your network, don’t wait for new connections to contact you. This is one of the most overlooked networking tips for small business owners. Do a 24-hour follow-up with the people you meet. This will help foster valuable relationships so that they don’t fizzle out.
When you follow up, mention some specific points from your conversation. It might be a good idea to write down key details right after the meeting. If the next steps were discussed initially, talk about them in the follow-up.
Also, give new connections a way to follow up with you. Create simple, branded business cards and make sure to carry them with you. Business information is an important part of what makes your website effective. Put your contact information on your website, social media accounts, and marketing materials.