Love it or hate it, networking is essential for small business owners. The end goal is business growth. Networking does not have to start at a trade show or event, and networking does not end at a trade show or event. LinkedIn, email, and video chats have expanded the boundaries of interpersonal connection and possibilities when it comes to networking. Whether making connections on LinkedIn, staying in touch with past contacts, or attending events to expand your network, there is value to gain for your small business. Here is how to achieve your small business goals through networking:
- Build Connections
- Generate Leads
- Stay Current
- Approach Others
A main goal of networking is to build connections with other professionals. These connections come in handy over and over. If you’re looking to hire more talent for your company, a LinkedIn study found that 85% of ‘critical’ positions are hired through networking. If you’re looking for advice, you are surrounded by professionals. Ask questions. In the same vein, if you have an opportunity to impart some advice speak your mind. In the long-run your industry leadership will shine through your commitment to learning from both yourself and others. It only requires seizing the opportunity to grow through your connections.
Some events are geared for generating leads, referrals, and partnerships. It’s not enough to simply attend, hand out some business cards, and carry on with business as usual. When putting effort into networking, every $1 spent on travel equates to over $12 in return. When you return to the office from the event, you should have names, numbers, emails, and connections. Input contact info to your CRM and jot down identifiers or conversation topics covered for each contact.
- Tip: Some people jot these down on the back of business cards after initially meeting a person.
Send a personalized follow-up to each of your contacts. It can be as simple as sharing an article relevant to your past conversation or setting up a lunch meeting to talk about a partnership. Sitting on a stack of business cards does not generate revenue from networking events. Following-up with your contacts does.
Staying competitive in your industry means being current with trends, competition, and market direction. Chances are that you already know some of your competitors. Forward-thinking entrepreneurs know that working with your competitors and sending referrals when appropriate can help your business in the long-run. If not, reach out to the owners of competing businesses. Mutual respect could mean mutual growth for both companies.
Be active in your goals. You won’t be able to generate leads, build connections, or stay up to date on industry trends by waiting around for someone to approach you. Take the initiative to approach others. Have a simple question in mind:
- “How’d you hear about this event?”
- “Can you tell me about your business?”
- “I noticed your business has been doing ___. How has that been working for you?”
People love to talk about themselves. They just need the right opportunity, and the conversation is rolling.
Maintaining Lasting Connections
After spending the time and effort to network, don’t flush it all down the drain by letting these relationships fall to the wayside. Continue to engage with your network. Check in with people, send referrals, and start conversations. Host an event, go to an event, comment on their LinkedIn posts. Maintaining these connections is about engagement in whatever way feels natural to you. Whatever your goal is for networking, take the steps to reach it by reaching out to your network.