Networking as a small business owner can be a crucial step to growing business clients or customers and can ensure they come back for repeat sales. Out of all the things you have to do as a small business owner, spending time networking may sit low on your priority list. Here is how and why to make networking a part of your small business growth strategy.

Why You Should Plan Your Networking Strategies?

First impressions are difficult, and it’s not always fun making new contacts at meetups and networking events. Regardless of the difficulty and perceived hardships surrounding a networking effort, it’s an important part of growing a business and sustaining that growth. It’s also a vital part of demonstrating a dedication to the community surrounding your business and to showing that you care about the people and environment around you.

That said, how can you start a successful networking effort? Getting started is the hardest part, but there are some tried and true strategies to take some of the pain out of networking itself. What are some of the most effective business networking strategies? Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important and successful ways to help you get started meeting people like a pro.

Build Relationships

Networking is a tricky business, and much like making friends as an adult it can be a difficult thing for many people to wrap their heads around. The old saying “it’s not what you know, but who you know” is common for a reason: It’s the way business works. Not only that, actually knowing a person is more important than using the connection with them for personal or professional gain. One of the most vital parts of networking is showing the other person that you’re as interested in benefiting them as you are in the prospect of benefiting yourself. Relationship building is also not just about the relationship, but how you may be able to help the other person achieve their goals.

Ask for Referrals

One of the most talked about brands in existence right now, Tesla, has become popular without any real marketing to speak of. The company’s fanatical following comes exclusively from organic, word-of-mouth communications, which drives both growth for the company and loyalty from existing customers. If you or your business are able to tap into that enthusiasm and generate enough interest from your existing customers, the payoff from referrals and customer testimonials will be much greater than that of a traditional marketing campaign.

Stay Top of Mind

When someone finally makes a purchase from you, they shouldn’t fall off the radar like old news. Maintaining a line of communication to your customers will help you stay on their minds and may even help you become part of a referral they give to someone else that is looking for a product or service similar to yours. Several software companies have built products that help business owners do this, through email and other methods, and a basic customer relation management app (CRM) will help you maintain your list of active contacts.

Maintain Social Profiles and Website

Nothing is more off-putting to a potential customer in the digital age than logging into to find an abandoned website or social media page that hasn’t been touched in years. If you’re in business, you should appear to be in business. This means a website with recent blog posts, current and accurate business hours, updated products or offerings, and no broken links. This also means maintaining your business Facebook page, checking in on LinkedIn, making sure your last tweet is at least from this decade, and updating other profiles on social networks so that people can find you when they want to. Beyond letting people know you actually exist, having an updated profile online may help you reach and sell to a broader audience.

Keep an Open Mind

You may operate a business that sells in a specific industry or focuses on a small group of customers, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore people outside of your normal customer base. Anyone can be a potential customer, but just as importantly, they may be able to lead you to your next potential customer. Make it a point to connect with people who are like-minded and open to connecting across industries. Your new clients may come from the most unexpected places, and some of the most beneficial relationships are with people in other industries whose only “real value” to you is as a fellow networker.

Attend Networking Events and Trade Shows

Face-to-face meetings are the best way to get in front of customers and make a lasting impression, and one of the best places to do that is at a trade show or industry event. It’s a sort of “safe space”, where most of the people attending are actually interested in the topic at hand and where you may be able to reach your true target market. Even at after hours events or things like chamber of commerce mixers, you will find a group of like minded people that are in the same place for the same reason you are: To focus on business networking, building relationships, and honing their networking strategies.

Be Part of the Community

We often see businesses participating in community events, donating money or products, and sending their employees to volunteer in local goings on. This isn’t just a great way to help in the community, it’s great marketing. You may not make a huge sale while helping clean up the local skate park, but being visible and becoming known as a company that cares about its community and is dedicated to making its area a better place will pay big returns when people start looking for a product or service that you offer.

Make Time

Being rushed doesn’t help get anything done, and networking is no exception. Make time on your schedule to send and reply to emails, attend events, and plan lunches or meetings. Your stress level will decrease when you’re figured out when you need to be somewhere, and the people you’re connecting with will know that they are your priority for the time you are together.

Set Goals

Want to make ten new business acquaintances this year? Set a goal and work toward it. Knowing what you want out of a new relationship, and even setting a goal on how many relationships you build, will help you focus your time and energy to get the most value out of trade shows, meetings, and other networking opportunities.

Relax and Practice

Networking strategies require practice. Running a successful business doesn’t mean you won’t eventually find a situation that is intimidating or uncomfortable. Taking the time to “build the networking muscle” and practicing your elevator pitch will help you make the impact you need to in a short amount of time. Practicing can also help take the sting out of networking so that you don’t mind doing it so much.

These aren’t all of the methods you can use to get out there and network, but they should give you a solid foundation to start building the right group of contacts. The biggest thing is to take every opportunity possible to get out and meet new people. You never know who your next customer will be and where they will come from, so it’s important to put your most valuable asset to work, and that’s you as the business owner. Being visible and being active in the community will show your potential customers and even your current employees that you are dedicated to being a valuable member of the community and are dedicated to growing and staying around for a while.

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