Business networking strategies are one of the least expensive marketing efforts you can employ to ensure success in your business. In a word, it’s relationships. Through networking, business owners build a professional support system for their company. This allows you to expand your roster of clients, grow your overall business, and generate additional revenue. It’s also a great way to meet other business owners within your industry who may be able to share stories of successes as well as failures from which you can learn. Networking does rely heavily on a social component. It’s all about meeting people and forging personal connections with them. This may be uncomfortable for certain people, but really something worth working on as it can create a lot of opportunities for your business.
When you start a business, customers won’t automatically flock to your store or website and buy your products and services simply because you’re open. Business owners have to invest time and effort into building a network of contacts that will help to grow the business from the ground up. Often, it is the business owners’ ability to network that helps produce the most yields for a new company.
Whether you’re starting a new business or looking to improve the reach of your existing business, networking is a tactic to focus on. In this article, we’ll outline everything you need to know about networking, from its definition down to its benefits, and offer tips on how you can network better to advance your business.
Related: 5 Practical Ways to Scale Your Business for Growth
What is Networking in Business?
Networking is the process of building relationships and contacts with other business owners, potential clients, suppliers, and professionals to develop or grow your business. It’s typically a mutually beneficial connection, through which both parties can receive help from each other.
What are the Best Avenues for Networking?
What networking boils down to is meeting people and forging a connection with them. Opportunities to do this exist all around us, it’s all about recognizing when they present themselves and being ready and able to capitalize on them when they do. Your next business connection could be anywhere – standing in front of you in line at the coffee shop, mingling at a party, or in your work out class.
With that said, you certainly can’t rely solely on chance occurrences. Business owners have the power to proactively identify and meet people in the same industry as well as outside industries of interest. Some examples of where to do this:
1. Business Seminars
Business seminars are educational programs where attendees are given information on a specific business-related topic – be it social media marketing, budget management, or creating an effective business plan. These events present great networking opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs because it’s guaranteed there will be like-minded individuals in attendance. Business seminars are taking place all the time, all over the U.S. Do your research to find those on topics that are of particular interest to you and your company and attend them with your business cards in tow.
2. Your Small Business Community
No matter where you live in the U.S., there is a community of small businesses and entrepreneurs at your fingertips. This could include more formal organizations and groups, like the American Marketing Organization or the American Management Organization, but also the small businesses that are operating in your town, city, and county. Look into whether there are any existing networking opportunities already taking place in your community that you can participate in. If there aren’t, consider taking the initiative to create some. Walk into local stores and introduce yourself. Think about conceptualizing an event that brings local businesses together, lock a block party or a group that meets once a month. You never know what insights, tips, skills, and business opportunities you could acquire from your peers right in your own backyard.
3. Business Networking Groups
Business networking groups are designed for the sole purpose of bringing people in business together to forge connections. There are tons of business networking groups that exist in every state across the U.S. – targeting a multitude of markets, industries, and demographics. Research those available in your community and look into joining multiple groups to expand your network as much as possible. Typically, these networking groups would host various in-person events throughout the year to create opportunities for attendees to meet one another. Most of these events have moved online due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but still, present opportunities for people to meet virtually.
What are the Benefits of Networking?
Building a business from scratch takes a lot of time, dedication, and money. Surrounding yourself with like-minded entrepreneurs can help you to stay motivated and inspired to achieve your goals and grow your company. It’s also the best way to learn, expand your knowledge, and generate greater awareness of your business among current and potential clients.
We’ve addressed what networking is and various ways business owners can do it. But why exactly is business networking strategies such an effective marketing tool? Here we break down five reasons why networking is key to growing your business:
1. Generating Brand Awareness and Opportunities
Meeting new people means introducing more people to your business, which is why networking allows you to build awareness of your brand. This can come in many forms.
Perhaps you meet a potential new customer who goes on to purchase your products or services and then tells their friends and family about your company, generating even more customers and sales. Maybe you meet a fellow business owner who is interested in partnering with you in some capacity. Partnerships and co-branding efforts allow you to tap into new markets and reach new audiences, which also generates awareness and sales. What if you meet a professional who specializes in skills and services that could be really useful to your company, like a marketing expert or public relations professional? Bottom line is, you never know where a relationship could take you and your company, and the more people you meet, the more potential opportunities will come your way.
2. Gain New Insights About Your Industry
It’s always great when networking leads directly to new customers and more sales. However, sometimes it leads to gaining more insight into your given industry, which could eventually evolve into more sales down the line.
When you attend business seminars and networking events, it creates opportunities for you to meet fellow business owners whom you can ask for advice or help. Maybe someone has endured and overcome similar situations you’re currently facing. Could you learn from their experiences? Did they employ tactics or strategies you hadn’t even thought of? Opening up a dialogue with your peers may open your eyes to industry insights, emerging market trends, or technology developments you weren’t fully aware of. Learning about such things allows you to take that knowledge and put it back into your business which could eventually lead to growth and expansion.
3. Establishes You as an Expert in the Field
Networking events and business seminars also present an opportunity for business owners and entrepreneurs to build their reputation as an expert among different business communities. Instead of just attending a seminar, could you lead one? Can you sit on a panel as an expert? Speak at a conference? It’s one thing to meet fellow business owners, but establishing yourself as an expert among them, could drive additional interest and attention to your business.
Business Networking Strategies: 7 Tips for Success
We’ve covered where you can network and why it’s effective. Here are seven tips for how you can do it successfully:
1. Don’t Hesitate to Take Advantage of an Opportunity
As mentioned earlier, opportunities to meet people could happen at any time. Don’t miss out on them when they come your way. If you attend a seminar lead by the CEO of a business you’ve always wanted to partner with in some capacity, make sure to introduce yourself to him or her. Maybe it’s way less formal and you see someone wearing the logo of a business you admire while walking your dog. Kindly get their attention and ask if they work there. Start a dialogue and see where it goes. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.,
2. Set Realistic Goals for Networking
Just like you set goals for your business, set them for networking as well. When you attend a networking event, commit to exchanging contact information with a minimum number of people. Set a goal for the number of informational meetings you set up each month, or events you’ll attend. Setting specific benchmarks will allow you to assess how you’re doing and make necessary adjustments to improve your networking strategies and efforts.
3. Make Introductions Short but Impressive
When a networking opportunity presents itself, rarely does it come with much time to make your case. Develop a strong elevator pitch that is attention-grabbing and succinctly encapsulates what your company is about, in 30 seconds or less. Practice this so when an opportunity does arise, you’ve got it down.
4. Make the First Move
If you only pursue opportunities when they come to you, you’re putting yourself and your business at a significant disadvantage. When you rely on others to make the first move, the opportunities to forge connections become out of your control. When you commit to pursuing opportunities, you remain in control of the connections you make. This pertains to introducing yourself to people to obtain their contact information, as well as reaching out to them once you have it. Stay persistent. If you don’t hear back, follow up. It’s up to you to be as diligent as possible to build your network.
5. Be Early
When you’re going to a business event, it never hurts to get there early. You never know who may be there. It’s also going to be less crowded at the very beginning of an event which may make it easier to approach people, and allow you more time to speak with them.
6. Don’t Be Scared to Follow-up on Opportunities
Most of the time, networking at an event is just a way to meet someone and get your foot in the door. Always be sure to exchange contact information with people of interest that you meet at events. This way you can follow up with those people and try to schedule a time to speak more in-depth with them. When you make this follow up outreach, be sure to reiterate who you are and what your company is, and why you want to meet with them.
7. Use Your Existing Resources to Connect with People
Everyone in business has their own network of contacts. The easiest way to open up a dialogue with someone is through a mutual contact if you have one. Reach out to people in your own network to see if they can make an introduction to people of interest. LinkedIn is a great tool for identifying mutual contacts.
Don’t Forget to Enjoy While Implementing Your Networking Strategies
Networking is of course business-driven, but it can be fun. Since it boils down to the meeting and connecting with people, lean into the social aspect of it. Perhaps you can find an initial connection with someone through things that aren’t work-related, like a mutual love for the same sports team or TV show. You never know when networking can actually lead to friendship.
Try to be relaxed and go into business and networking events with an open mind. Don’t be overly aggressive in pushing your business on people. Have open conversations and integrate your business into those conversations. It’s also really important that you listen. If you just barrel through an introduction and only talk about yourself and your company, it’s not only a turn-off, but you could miss out on hearing about someone else’s business and any opportunities for collaboration.