If you’ve started a small business, networking might not be on your mind yet, or it could be something you have feelings of reluctance and uncertainty about. It is important to turn your mind to it, however, as networking is a way of increasing your knowledge, opportunities, and personal growth.
Realize the value of networking to a small business. A small business is a small fish in a very big sea. Networking helps you to become a part of the bigger sea, by getting your business out there and known by more than a few. And without a doubt, networking always increases the job opportunities for your small business, from meeting new contacts, catching up with old contacts, finding out new ideas, gaining a mentor, and getting support.
Consider using real life networking and online networking opportunities. Use both if possible as this increases your coverage; with online networking, you don’t have to travel but you can reach out worldwide. Real life networking adds the personal touch.
Be prepared. One of the main reasons that people shy away from networking is because they convince themselves that they don’t know what to say or do. Yet, networking differs from dinner parties. You don’t get stuck with the same person all evening; you move around rapidly and you have pointed conversations when you do connect. There just isn’t time to take one person to the corner and hog them all night, and if you try, you’ll seen get your shoulder tapped! Preparation should consist of the following basics:
- Have a business card printed up – name, address, contact details, pithy summary of your business, and any other short, relevant info. More importantly, always have enough of these on you to hand out. Don’t forget them!
- Prepare a spiel. Just a few sentences that best summarize your business in a positive light. Don’t use this as an opportunity to sell; all you need at this stage is connection and curiosity raising.
- Know why you’re networking. Do you want to get more business, more support, more mentors, more ideas? This will help to slant your approach rather than standing around wondering what the point is!
Be selective. While networking is important for a small business, your time is precious. Target the events that seem to you the best able to meet your business’ interests. Schedule these events into your diary and prepare anyone else from your business who will be attending with you by outlining the above preparation advice to them. There is no point running yourself ragged trying to attend every networking opportunity available; do your research to see what counts most.
Be interested in people for who they are, not the opportunities they may or may not represent. Everyone responds better to being treated as someone who matters. When you talk, show your interest in their small talk, their personal stories. Be careful not to make statements that might offend their personal beliefs or faith. Keep it above board, friendly, and person-oriented. The business will come later when the connection and trust have formed.
Follow up promising contacts. Don’t wait for them to chase you; chase them instead. Do this within the 48 hours following the event. A cheery email, a quick phone call, or even a handwritten letter on your letterhead are ideal methods for follow up.