Networking For Small Business Owners

game board pieces as a metaphorical display of a human network

Here’s a common trait that virtually all business owners share: they’re busy running their business. Right now you’re probably thinking “Yeah, no shit.” However, this has important ramifications that we must consider.

Many business owners are great at what they do, but they can get so caught up in the day-to-day stuff that they become isolated. This means that even if they’re doing a great job serving their existing customers, they’re not exchanging ideas or generating new leads. If you stay in this isolated condition long enough then your business will surely suffer.

Many people (including myself) can feel uncomfortable with building new relationships or even maintaining current ones. Others might think they’re too busy to worry about these things because they have more important or more urgent matters to attend to.

Networking doesn’t have to be a chore though, and like anything else it gets easier with a little bit of practice.

This article presents a few options for how you can approach networking, so that you can create a strategy that works best for your schedule and personality. By giving this a little bit of effort, you can avoid the isolated condition that will cause your business to suffer.

Once you develop your networking skills and learn how to apply them, you will experience many benefits. New leads will start being sent your way, you will come across new opportunities, staying current and relevant in your trade will happen naturally, and you will be able to find advice from like-minded people. Plus, you will see a compounding effect of these benefits the longer you network.

The Networking Mindset

One approach to networking is committing to a new networker identity, as advocated in the book Strategic Connections. This will involve embracing a networking mindset, and beginning to consider yourself a “networker” as well as a business owner.

It is important to realize that there are people all over the world who have expertise that compliments your own, and embracing a networking mindset means maintaining a collaborative environment around you. So, be proactive in seeking out relationships that could help you and your business. For example, as someone who provides digital marketing services to local business owners, I should find groups and conferences that cater to either marketers or small/local business owners.

As somebody who has adopted a networker identity, you should always be ready for an encounter with a potential contact whether or not you’re attending a networking event. Spend a little bit of time preparing anecdotes that demonstrate your value and the various skills that you have. Humans tend to learn and remember information better when they receive it in the form of a story, so having anecdotes prepared can help make encounters with you memorable for others.

When coming up with anecdotes, think of the skills, experiences, and connections you have that could help the type of person you would like to have in your network. Then try to remember times when you successfully used those to help yourself or someone else. After that, it’s just a matter of writing out a few sentences that tell the story of what happened and how the people involved were benefited.

It’s also important for networkers to be good listeners. While engaging in conversations, try to identify any needs that your potential contact has that you could help with. Solving a problem for somebody is a great way to quickly earn their trust and build reciprocity in the relationship.

Join Local Networking Groups

To get started on your networking journey, you don’t need to jump in head first by completely adopting this networker identity. One smaller thing you can do is join one or two local networking groups. Meetup.com can be a good platform for finding these, or you can just use your favorite search engine.

One objection that busy people would probably have is that these groups will probably never meet at a time when you can make it. However, after spending just 10 to 15 minutes on Meetup.com I was able to find groups in my hometown of San Diego that meet bright and early at 6AM, around lunch time, and in the evenings anywhere from 5PM to 9PM.

After joining these groups, it might be helpful to do a little bit of preparation before attending their events. Have a 30-second elevator pitch ready to go, and remember that story telling is the most effective form of communication. It is also a good idea to bring plenty of business cards to these events.

While attending a networking event, make sure to smile and listen. Not only are these two of the most important things you can do for being likable, but actively listening to the issues that people deal with can help you find opportunities to offer advice or point someone in the right direction. Reciprocity is an extremely powerful networking tool, and will usually pay you back many times over.

Joint Ventures

Rather than spending loads of time gaining contacts and building your network, you can try searching for someone that provides services that are complimentary to the services you provide and see if you can build a partnership. This can be done through cross-promoting, customer referral rewards, etc.

As an example, somebody who sells prefabricated countertops probably gets a lot of business from home contractors. If there was a nearby business that sold flooring then it would most likely be mutually beneficial for the two businesses to cross-promote since they would have a similar customer base.

When looking for a joint venture partner, start by identifying your own target market and who already has a relationship with this market. After reaching out to a potential partner, try to figure out what their needs are and what their clients’ needs are. The goal here is to show that you can fill a gap in those needs that will help both your potential partner and their clients. This will create a win-win-win scenario, and now the only thing left to do is agree on the terms of the joint venture.

This Fundera post gives some more information on cross-promoting, as well as more networking ideas.

Additional Networking Strategies

Social media is another tool that can be effectively used for networking. You can join existing groups or you could even build a community of like-minded people from the ground up. Also, try following popular experts in your field and then connecting with some of their other followers.

Networking is not only about gaining new contacts; it is also about maintaining good relationships and leveraging your current contacts. Strategically organizing your contact list can be incredibly helpful.

Try making a list of all the people you could potentially contact, and then organize it in whatever way you feel will be most useful or convenient. One way you could organize the list is by grouping your contacts based on the type of relationship you have with them. Friends and family go in a group, people you work with go in a group, professionals from outside your workplace go in a group, etc.

The book How To Be a Power Connector by Judy Robinett suggests a different method for organizing your network. Instead, the 5+50+100-Rule is proposed. In this strategy you group your contacts based on how strong of a relationship you have. The five people who you feel really close to will go in a group, the fifty people who you have valuable relationships with and who you contact regularly go in a group, and the hundred people who you probably don’t contact more than once a month but would be willing to help if you called go in a group. This is a good structure to start with for planning your relationships.

Conclusion

Networking is not always a primary focus for small business owners, but it does deserve attention. Choose a networking strategy that best fits your personality and just start doing it. You probably won’t see immediate and obvious results, but keep at it and you will eventually notice how it helps you to at least stay current and prevent your business from slipping. Once you really get good at networking, your business will begin to reach new heights after benefiting in ways which you would have never expected.

Of course, networking is just one way to go about finding new customers. Fill out the form below to get a free guide on how to get more customers through local search rankings.

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