As a small business owner, you probably don’t have a lot of time. But it’s important to carve out a bit of time to network, especially with other small businesses. You’re probably thinking, “But time is money,” and you’re right. If done correctly, this small investment of time could be worth a lot of money.
Networking is a great way to generate business leads, whether it’s a new partner for a future project or a new customer. It’s also a good way to stay up-to-date on the latest trends in your industry. Who knows, you could miss out on the details of the newest money-saving technique because you skipped that event or canceled that lunch. Networking provides you with a wealth of knowledge from which to draw ideas, gain perspective, and ultimately grow your business.
You might be thinking, “How can I get in on this networking game?” Well, you’ve come to the right place. Here are seven helpful strategies to successfully network with other businesses.
1. Make friends online
Find other small business owners to connect with online. They can be from your industry or within your community. Follow them on social media (from your company’s account) to show interest in their business. Even better, mention their business or product in a tweet or Facebook post. This creates goodwill among other entrepreneurs, and they might return the gesture in your favor.
Another way to make online friends is to create guest blog posts. Guest blogging will get your content to a new audience and help build your brand. It also will help build your credibility if an influencer in your industry uses your post. On the flipside, it’s also good to have others write guest blogs for your site, as their audience likely will check out your page to see posts from an author they trust.
2. Host meet and greets
Chances are you’re not alone and other small business owners are looking for ways to network, too. Why not break the ice and host a meet and greet at your business? This not only will provide a venue for networking, but it also has the potential to build your own customer base.
Encourage guests to bring information about their businesses and set up a large table for everyone to display their items. Provide them with binders branded with your logo containing information about you and your business, your product line, or services you offer.
Account for the accessibility of your guests, but use a minimal number of chairs so that people are encouraged to move around and meet each other. Plan exercises so attendees can learn more about each other. Hand out goodie bags that include some free samples or coupons for your services and thank you notes.
Novel attractions at your event that encourage fun interaction and create buzz like ping pong tables or photobooths can create a lasting impression. Many event attractions don’t even require too much setup or money, for example, the Snappic photobooth app runs on your iPad.
Hosting an event could also give you a confidence boost from all the practice you’ll be getting talking to strangers and pitching your business. And, if your event went well, you’ll likely receive invitations to other events, which will in turn continue to build your network.
3. Join organizations
Your time is limited, but participating in an industry-specific organization, small business associations, or your local chamber of commerce can be beneficial for your business. Be sure to consider your goals, customer needs, and what you want to gain from the membership when selecting an organization to join. You also want to consider how many active members are in the group, how many events are hosted each year, and (if applicable) the cost of the annual dues.
These groups can connect you to influencers in your industry, offer development opportunities, and help you find resources if you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation. In addition, you’ll be able to attend the group’s events for more networking opportunities. Some groups also help members receive discounts on common services such as shipping and handling or insurance. Others will contact state and federal lawmakers on behalf of their members regarding legislation that could impact business.
If you have time, consider taking on a leadership role in the organization. This will get you and your business more exposure among the members and keep you among the first to know about changes in your industry.
4. Attend conferences
Now that you’ve hosted a meet and greet or joined an organization, you should attend a conference. This takes up some time and there is a cost, so do your homework. Find out how many people typically attend the event and the caliber of speakers who present. Google the event to find social media posts from previous years to see what people said about it.
A large conference or event also connects with many more people in your field, including prominent influencers. It’s also a good time to catch up with people from your field you haven’t spoken with in a while.
You could attend classes to learn something new or boost your skills. Check out the itinerary before arriving to make sure you can get into the sessions that will be most valuable. Although conferences can get expensive, you might be able to split the cost of a hotel or carpool if someone else you know is going, too. Or check the social media page of the conference to see if anyone near you is attending. Looks like the value of those other tips already is paying off.
In addition to the extra networking you’ll be able to do, attending a conference has another benefit: It gives you a change of scenery. As small business owners, it’s easy to get in the rut of only going home or to work. This quick change could give you a creative boost or refresh your mind.
Be sure to attend some of the social events too. It’s a good way to network in a different setting and recharge your batteries.
A great way to network with another small business is to partner with it. Like guest blogging, cross-promoting gets your brand in front of a new audience. Cross-promoting could be anything from pooling your resources to sponsoring an event to bundling your products together.
It can be as simple as printing joint promotional messages on each other’s receipts or hanging signs or posters to advertise for one another in your respective businesses. You also could drop each other’s flyers in your customers’ shopping bags.
If you want to step it up, you can create promotional videos to post on each other’s social media or create a joint ad to put in local shopping papers. If the partnership works out, you can use it as a successful example to partner with another business later.
Volunteering is a great way to get out in the community and network with people. Not only does it put you in direct contact with other small businesses, but it could make your brand more visible in the community.
One way to volunteer is to take a seat on the board of a local nonprofit organization. Often, these boards are comprised of other business leaders, and having the organization as a common interest is a great way to break the ice to connect with them.
You also could partner with local businesses for a philanthropic event such as a neighborhood cleanup day, school supply giveaway, or food drive. Give your employees matching T-shirts featuring participating businesses’ logos to wear at the event as a way to build brand awareness.
Don’t forget to send a press release to local media to let them know about your upcoming event and to make sure you get a larger turnout.
7. Follow up
There’s more to networking than exchanging business cards and contact information. It’s important to take the extra time to build those relationships and nurture those connections if you want your networking attempts to be successful.
Did you want to have a deeper conversation with a particular someone? Be sure to make some sort of contact with 48 hours of the first meeting so they don’t forget about you. Emails can get lost in cyberspace or a cluttered inbox, so consider sending a personalized thank you note with your business card or a sample of your product. Explain how much you enjoyed meeting them and ask to meet again to continue the discussion.
When you do communicate again, don’t put the focus on yourself. See what you can offer to help first. Most people are likely to reciprocate when you have a need, and it will help foster a positive reputation.
Like most things, when it comes to networking, you get what you put in. It’s up to you to determine how you want to spend your time and money, but if you follow some of these tips, you could get more bang for your buck. Do you have a great networking strategy? Please share it in the comments below.