Networking isn't just for entry-level job seekers or emerging entrepreneurs, it's a valuable exercise for aspiring and established small business owners as well. Read on to learn more about the power of business networking and how you can use it to drive business growth.
Why is small business networking important?
Professional networking is the process of expanding your network. Effective business networking means building relationships not only with customers and clients, but also with fellow small business owners, investors and mentors, community members, and professionals in other industries. With networking opportunities, you can:
- Get advice and tips from other business experts.
- Ask for introductions to business consultants, vendors, and other professionals.
- Establish mutually beneficial business partnerships.
- Take advantage of interesting and relevant opportunities.
- Invest in new business projects and initiatives.
- Fundraising activities.
- Learn more about your industry and gain valuable insights.
- Increase your customer base.
- Learn new skills that you can apply to your business.
- Benefit from word-of-mouth marketing.
- Generate new ideas.
- Stay on top of industry trends and changing customer needs.
6 Small Business Networking Tips for More Success
If you're intimidated by the idea of building your professional network, or if your previous networking efforts haven't yielded great results, try these tips.
1. Clarify what you want to get and what you want to give
Before you introduce yourself in a networking group or email someone you know for a coffee date, consider your networking goals. Would you like to forge new business partnerships, find a mentor or increase the visibility of your business? What can you offer in return? Do you have specific knowledge or business contacts you would like to share? Your business Can you provide free services to your network?
Answering these questions will help you plan and focus on the most meaningful networking activities instead of trying to do everything.
One of the best ways to start networking as a small business owner (especially if you own a brick-and-mortar store) is to become more familiar with your local community. Community ties are strong and most people want to help each other and support local businesses. Here are some ways to get involved:
- Join your local business association (check your city's website for more information).
- Check out resources for business owners in your city, including business grants and peer groups.
- Attend local events, from fundraisers and rallies to charity auctions, farmers markets, and seasonal activities.
- Use other local businesses for your business needs, such as catering team lunches or ordering office supplies.
- Introduce yourself to local business owners, share your contact information, and ask how you can help.
- Register for local volunteer events.
- Attend City Council meetings to learn more about local policies and news that affect small business owners.
3. Join a professional association
Professional business organizations are a great place to connect with like-minded people and develop your skills. Many small business networking groups and associations host in-person annual conferences and regular virtual webinars, in addition to business courses, networking events, and mentorship matches. Some associations offer their own business subsidies.
Start by looking for associations in your industry or region. Many industries and cities have their own niche groups of experts in social networking. From there, check out organizations that cater to people with similar backgrounds and needs as you. Here are some professional associations that support women, minority, LGBTQIA+, and veteran business owners.
Pro tip: Check out our guide. Receive a loan as a woman-owned business and Find financing as a minority owned business.
4. Make the most of industry events and trade shows
Industry trade shows and conferences are great opportunities for successful networking, but attending alone isn't enough to have a positive experience. To make the most of your time (and investment), keep these strategies in mind.
- Please choose carefully: Choose an event that aligns with your business goals. Check the speakers, panel topics, and resources ahead of time to make sure you get what you're looking for.
- Arrange meetings in advance. Organic, spontaneous networking is thrilling when it happens, but it's not always possible. If you struggle with social situations or find yourself pressed for time at events, try scheduling a get-together. You can email people you know will be attending or set up a group chat to report something.
- Contribute to the event: Sharing your experiences and skills in a large group setting is a great way to bring people together. Find opportunities to contribute, such as volunteering at events or participating in panel discussions.
5. Pay it forward
Networking is an exchange of give and take. You won't build real, lasting connections if you're only thinking about yourself. That's why it's important to actively find ways to connect and support your peers. Here are some best practices to keep in mind.
- Don't dominate the conversation. Listen and ask questions when talking to others.
- Send a follow-up email to the person you exchanged business cards with.
- Follow your connections on professional social media accounts, share and comment on their posts.
- Create a support group online or in person with like-minded friends and colleagues to catch up, share ideas, and exchange business ideas.
- Get LinkedIn recommendations from people you've worked with or care about.
- Look for ways to support people in your network, such as sharing relevant business opportunities or suggesting new vendors.
- Tell your friends, family, connections and colleagues about businesses you love and trust.
6. Establishing mutually beneficial business partnerships
Healthy, strategic business partnerships are one of the best outcomes of networking. Business partnerships can take many forms. You can conduct joint ventures where you and another business owner team up to accomplish a common goal, such as hosting a community event or purchasing a shared location. Or you can pair them up for cross-promotion. In this case, you refer customers to your partner's business, and your partner's business does the same.
As you network, keep an up-to-date list of potential business partnerships. Then, once you've made contact with someone you see potential, set up a conversation to learn more about their business goals, skills, and communication style.
Start networking now
Networking is an ongoing process, but it doesn't have to be difficult. Start with one simple connection. Before you know it, your circle will become even bigger and your business will become better.