Successful small business owners understand the importance of creating a strong network for their business. But knowing you need to network and knowing how to network are two different things.
In this article, we will discuss why you need to network, how to find networking opportunities, and how to make the most of these opportunities.
Why Networking Is Important
For many business owners, networking is a second thought. They think of it as a happy hour where they need to make small talk and quite honestly they have no interest in that. But there are many benefits of networking for small business owners.
Grow Your Business
As a small business owner, you are always looking for ways to grow your business. You may have a great product or service, but if you don’t have customers, you won’t be in business for long. Networking is one of the most effective ways to find new customers and grow your business.
When you network with other businesses, you create relationships that can lead to referrals, joint ventures, and new business opportunities. You never know when someone you meet at a networking event will be able to help you grow your business.
Being a small business owner can be extremely lonely. Very few people understand the pressures you are under to succeed not just for you and your family but for your employees and clients as well. Networking is a great way to gather a group of people you can lean on for support.
One of the most overlooked benefits of networking is that you can tap into the experience of other business owners and you can share your experience with them. Why learn from your own mistakes when you can learn from the mistakes others have made?
Networking groups often offer an opportunity to speak in front of more people. The Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau are always looking for local business owners to share their expertise with their members. These opportunities often turn into business for the speaker.
Establishing Yourself As A Pillar
When you first start your business, chances are you won’t know many people in the business community. More importantly, most of them won’t know you. Networking gives you the opportunity to stand out in your community. The more you stand out, the more likely you are to be thought of when someone needs your product or service.
Making The Most Of Networking Opportunities
There are many networking opportunities available for small business owners. There are chamber of commerce events, business trade shows, and online networking groups. You can also network with other small business owners in your industry or you can network with a wide array of businesses. But you only have so much time. How do you decide which networking events are best for you?
Test The Waters
In the beginning, you need to take advantage of as many networking opportunities as possible. It can be helpful to have a plan for each event you attend. You should always bring plenty of business cards and be prepared to talk about your business.
Resist The Urge To Pitch
But just as importantly, you need to be prepared to listen. It’s difficult to build relationships when you are using the event solely as an opportunity to sell your product or service. Being a resource for others will help them remember you.
The biggest mistake people make is going to networking events just to collect business cards. Instead, make an effort to get to know the people you meet. Find out what they do and what their businesses are all about. The more you know about the people in your network, the more likely they are to think of you when they need someone with your products or services.
Be The Connector
One of the best ways to stand out in a networking event is to be a connector. Consider people you might introduce your new acquaintance to. People rely on connectors. They are grateful to connectors and this gratitude goes a long way toward helping establish you as a pillar of the community.
Networking is one of the best ways to grow your small business. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to network and you will see your business grow.
Networking Opportunities to Consider
Chambers of Commerce
Get involved in your local Chamber of Commerce. Your chamber is much more than a networking opportunity. During the pandemic, chambers helped members get grants, connected them with other members for cross-promotion, and even helped them find employees.
Provisors, BNI, Pacesetters
Groups like BNI, Pacesetters, or Provisors offer more organized meetings designed to build relationships and create referral opportunities. They take more commitment but they often pay off financially.
Because these groups are more formal, it’s important that you visit several groups before making a commitment. These groups are often where you build lasting relationships so who is in your chapter really matters.
Many people miss this opportunity because they think they won’t get business from people who are essentially their competitors. But consider this:
- Oftentimes people in our own industry make the best referral partners. Their target audience and yours may be very different which allows you to refer to the customers you are not interested in and vice versa.
- Learning opportunities are more available in these groups. Members have faced many of the same issues that you will face and they may have solutions.
- Shared experiences mean that you will feel less lonely in your business.
Social Media Groups
Joining social media groups is a simple way to network. But keep in mind that joining the group and being active in the group are two different things. If you really want to succeed, you must be active.
A great example of social media networking is the community that has been built around flipping homes. A chimney cleaning company or plumber may join these groups and offer advice that helps the investor. That way, when there is a need for either of these services, they are more likely to be the ones their other members call. Be careful not to spam these groups. This is not the place to put your advertisements. It’s the place to be a resource.
Create Your Own Networking Group
We have seen small business owners create their own networking groups to great success. There is a large group of endurance athletes on LinkedIn who all own companies. They work together on projects, but also keep each other accountable for getting their training in. Some women create groups for business owners with kids. They support each other as they build their business, but often share childcare or share their experience with specific summer camps. And there are groups centered around a specific cause that the business owners care about.
What activities are you involved with that might benefit others and help you grow your business? Share your favorite networking groups with us on LinkedIn.
Remember we’re always here for your IT “networking” needs, give us a call today at 301-789-1029.