Networking tips for small business owners
If you’ve never attended a networking event before, it can be an alien atmosphere. Here are some tips to get you started.
Your business needs customers, and you need a way to market and sell your products. But in order to have customers, you have to build relationships with potential clients first. This can be difficult, especially as a small business owner who doesn’t have the time or budget for expensive marketing campaigns or PR efforts. That’s where networking comes in.
Networking one of the best ways for small business owners to meet new people and connect with potential buyers without having to spend tons of money first.
If you’re unsure about how networking will benefit your company, or if you’re not sure how exactly it works, then here is our advice.
Attend every event you can… to start with
Initially, attending every event you can is a good way to meet new people. You will meet people who have never heard of your business but may still be looking for what you have to offer. You’ll also meet others who can refer their friends or colleagues to you, if they like the service that you provide.
Once you become more familiar with the networking scene in your area, you can start to be a little more targeted and surgical about which events you want to invest time in.
Networking is about building relationships. It’s about building trust, sharing information and learning from each other. Networking is about creating a community of like-minded professionals who help each other succeed.
The best way for small business owners to network is by participating in local events where they can connect with others in their field on a personal level, rather than through sales pitches or transactions.
Be genuine and real
Don’t try to be something that you’re not – authenticity goes a long way. When you meet someone new, don’t be afraid to share your story. This will help them understand who you are and what makes your business unique. It also gives people an opportunity to learn about the challenges that small businesses face within their community. This can help them appreciate how important it is for them to support your business, both personally and professionally.
If someone asks what your business does, tell them! Don’t make up an elaborate story or try too hard. Just give them the facts: “We sell shoes online.” If they want more information than that, then by all means go ahead and give it – but don’t force it if they don’t ask. This isn’t just about being genuine; it’s also about making sure that everyone gets what they need out of the conversation. Don’t take up too much time or allow yourself to become boring with an overly long answer or by giving unnecessary details that aren’t relevant.
Make sure your elevator pitch is clear and concise
Your elevator pitch is the first thing people will hear about your business. You need it to be clear and concise, so that anyone who hears it understands what you do in just a few seconds.
To create an elevator pitch that gets attention, start with a story. People love stories, so tell them one about how you got started or why you’re passionate about what you do. For example, “I was having trouble finding quality healthcare for my family when my neighbour suggested I contact her friend who owns a concierge medical practice.” The use of concrete details helps make the story more interesting for listeners, and makes them more likely to remember what they heard later on!
Do everything you can to make yourself approachable. This starts with a smile; no-one wants to talk to someone sulking in a corner with their arms folded. While this can be challenging for an introvert, it’s a big part of the reason you’re there.
If you’re standing talking to a group of people, leave a space for someone to join. Don’t make it look like a closed group. This will make you and the other people are speaking to seem more welcoming to others.
Don’t buy into the concept that you “network in order to sell”
You don’t have to sell your services or products in order to build relationships. In fact, if you do this, it will make people uncomfortable and they’ll be less likely to want to help you out.
Instead of thinking about networking as a place where you can get clients or customers, think about it as an opportunity for learning, growth, and meeting new people. They may be able to help you in the long-term.
Don’t be afraid to share knowledge
One of the best ways to build relationships and create a sense of community is through sharing knowledge. This can be as simple as teaching a class or writing an article, or it can take the form of giving presentations at conferences and seminars.
If you’re not comfortable sharing your own knowledge in this way, find someone who is and share their work instead! Not as plagiarism, of course – shine a light on someone you respect.
Create an event around your business
If you have an idea for a great networking opportunity, don’t wait for someone else to come up with it. Go ahead and create one!
The best way to do this is by offering something that’s relevant to your business, but also offers something attendees will want to come back for again and again. For example: if you own a coffee shop or café, consider hosting coffee tastings where people can learn about different types of beans and brewing methods while enjoying their favourite beverage (or two).
Be sure that whatever type of event you choose will fit in well with the day-to-day operations of your business, so there are no surprises when planning time rolls around later down the line…
Have a purpose for each event you attend
While you shouldn’t go with the sole purpose of trying to sell, it’s still sensible to go where your target audience is. If you’re trying to sell products or services to moms who have young kids, then going to events that are geared toward parents will help attract those customers. If there aren’t any events like this coming up in your area, ask around locally about where parents might go on their own time – like playgroups or mummy-and-me classes at the local library – and get in touch with the organiser to ask if you can attend those events yourself, and explain what you have to offer.
Go where people will learn something new from talking with each other. Sharing knowledge and insight is a great way of forming connections with people, and if you help them out, they’ll be more inclined to help you in the future.
Ask questions, but not too many
When you’re talking to someone, ask questions. Questions show that you are interested in the other person and can help build rapport. But don’t ask too many questions; three or four should be plenty. You need to be contributing to the conversation as well, or it’ll feel very one-sided.
Avoid asking personal questions, like “How much money do you make?” or “What time do your kids go to bed?” These types of inquiries will make people uncomfortable and could even make them think less highly of you or your business.
It’s also important not to bombard someone with question after question – no matter how much enthusiasm for learning about them comes out through those queries! Asking one question at a time will allow them time to respond without feeling overwhelmed by all the things being thrown at them.
Follow up with those you meet individually
As you meet new people in your business network, be sure to follow up with them after the event. It’s important that you keep in touch and maintain a good relationship with those who are interested in what you have to offer.
The best place to start is LinkedIn – this is a professional network, and therefore a reasonable to reach out to someone you’ve just met at a business event. Ensure your profile is up-to-date, and reflective of what you’ve discussed when meeting in person.
If you’ve exchanged contact details, an email or text message offering a short note to thank them for their time at the event is also appropriate. If applicable, let them know how much value they provided to you personally. This will show that their opinion matters to you and makes it more likely that they’ll feel valued, giving greater resonance to your meeting.
Ask if there were any questions related to your business or industry which came up during your conversation at the event. This gives both parties an opportunity for further discussion, without the pressure of other people waiting to speak to them.
Offer help/advice if needed (but only if genuinely able). You might not have been able say everything perfectly in person, but perhaps someone did ask you a question that you’ve since had time to consider in greater depth. Therefore, now would be a good time to follow up, and establish an ongoing conversation.
Find your tribe
There are probably people in your city who are going through similar challenges to you and have the same values, interests and goals. Networking is a great way to find them! You can have all sorts of conversations with these people: about business strategy, marketing tactics, hiring processes – the list goes on and on. You’ll be amazed at how much support they provide for each other when dealing with problems or issues that come up along the way.
The truth is that networking is a long-term investment. It’s not something that you can do once and expect immediate results. You have to be consistent, authentic and patient with yourself and others, in order for this process to work effectively over time. If you follow these tips and put in the effort required, you’ll be able to build genuine relationships with other professionals.