As a small business, there are a lot of things you need to get a handle on, from bookkeeping, to hiring, to advertising — you may find yourself wearing many hats.
A quick search for how to get new customers and networking will almost certainly come up.
No matter the business you’re in, networking is an essential skill.
Small businesses don’t have the reach big corporations do, which means they rely on networking more, not less.
Networking isn’t just about growing your customer base either. It also helps grow resources, helps you expand by providing access to knowledgeable experts, and helps you keep on top of recent developments in your industry.
There are plenty of good reasons to expand your business opportunities through networking. But if you’re a small business, how do you keep current without breaking the bank?
There are plenty of creative networking opportunities available to small businesses, and these tips will help you find yours.
Make a plan and build a team
Networking isn’t about approaching anyone and everyone.
We’re living in an age where everyone is overloaded with sales pitches and spam.
If you’re a small business, it may not seem practical to spend extra time and money on a team specifically for networking, but doing your research when it comes to looking for networking opportunities is still important.
Sit down with your team members and discuss your goals. Include events you think will benefit the company, and partners you’d like to build a relationship with.
It’s also a good idea to decide who will be the face of the company?
Networking is about building relationships.
Having a familiar name at the end of each email, and a designated contact if there are questions and concerns, will make a big difference while you’re networking.
Get your ‘elevator pitch’ right
Imagine you’re in an elevator with a major investor. What would you say to get them interested in your company? Could you say it quickly enough before you reached the ground floor?
Crafting the perfect elevator pitch is an essential networking skill.
When it comes to trade shows and conferences, you may only have a few minutes of someone’s attention.
On social media, you have only a few lines.
Crafting the right elevator pitch means knowing how to sell yourself, your ideas, and what your business has to offer, in five minutes or less.
Participate in your community
Small businesses can make use of community involvement as a way to expand your network.
This may mean sponsoring community events or participating in your local business associations.
Studies show that customers prefer to support a local business that reflects their community and values. So, make use of the community connections you already have.
Sponsor a community event, support a local team, and reach out in your own community to improve your community and extend your network.
Visit trade events
Whatever your industry, trade events and conferences are a great place to hone your networking skills.
You don’t need to travel far or hit up every trade event throughout the year. Choose two or three throughout the year as you make your networking plan.
If you’re looking to participate in a trade event, remember to bring business cards and other handouts for patrons to take with them.
No matter how memorable your pitch, big events can be overwhelming.
Make sure you set yourself apart.
Look for mentors
Trade shows, conferences, and local organizations are great ways to find a mentor.
Cultivating a relationship with a more experienced company doesn’t have to be complicated.
Engage with them through social media, send pitch emails for cross-promotion ideas and increase your knowledge of your industry. Note what other companies are doing right, and where the gaps are, so you can offer them your own expertise, even as you ask for advice.
Use social networking
Speaking of social networking, good relationships on social media are key to your overall networking plan.
Not only is social media a great place to keep in touch with clients and customers, but it’s also a great way to recruit talent, and cultivate relationships in your industry.
Where do you start?
It depends on your goals — Twitter and Instagram are great places to open a dialogue with other businesses and your customers. Facebook and your own website are good for community engagement, and allow you to get deeper into your company’s values, and allow for longer, more engaging conversation.
Social networking is also a great way to recruit talent.
Start a blog
Blogging is an excellent opportunity for cross-promotion and creating networking opportunities.
You may offer to guest post, to expand your own readership, or to offer cross-promotion to other industry experts or partners.
Blogging is also a great way to stay relevant to clients and customers, and communicate with your own clients and customers.
Reach out to industry partners
Perfecting a cold email pitch can go a long way to expanding your network but be careful not to appear generic. Personalise any cold approaches to explain why you are contacting them and more importantly what is in it for them.
Choose your partners wisely and research them to ensure your communications are relevant.
If you want to go a creative or unconventional route, it’s even more important to outline, quickly, exactly what you can offer a potential partner.
You may want to consider the benefits of freelance content creation for writing cold emails, guest blogs, and more.
Communicate with your target market
At every stage, you should be communicating with your target customers and clients, specifically through digital marketing.
A good relationship with your target market allows you to stay on top of trends, and build a reputation in your industry.
It’s also a great way to get information — by speaking to your target market, through email newsletters, polls, and social media, you’ll have regularly-updated data concerning what people want to engage with, how they associate you, and what they care about.
Adjust your strategy as you grow
Just as you should always be updating your marketing strategy, with analytics, you should be keeping track of which networking strategies work for you.
Depending on your team, your industry, and your goals, you may find some strategies to be more effective than others.
Whether you attend industry events or participate in social media campaigns, track your own engagement and be sure to follow up with the connections you have made.
Remember, this is about more than sales.
There are many different types of networking, but the goal should always be about building relationships.
Your business needs a champion. The best way to grow any business is through networking.
But networking doesn’t mean talking to everyone at every opportunity.
Instead, you need a plan for how to reach those people who could most benefit your business and lead to loyal, long-term customers.
With the right plan, the right team, and the ability to choose the right opportunities and partners, you’ll soon see the boost that networking can give your business.