Looking for an inexpensive, efficient way to increase awareness of your small business? Upping networking efforts could be the answer. While this activity might not be anyone’s favorite, its importance cannot be denied. Word-of-mouth builds your brand among business peers, potential clients, prospective employees, and the community at large. Additionally, developing a network of professionals to reach out to for advice and support can be a lifesaver for a small business owner when confronted with new challenges.
Ready to take advantage of all the possibilities a stronger network can offer? Use these tips to get started:
Get out there
Professional association gatherings, industry conferences, Chamber of Commerce events – plenty of opportunities exist to meet others and tell them about your small business. Visibility creates recognition and encourages trust. People like to do business with someone they know, so face-time can have huge returns.
Some of the best networking develops outside of the “corporate” sphere, so be ready to explain to anyone and everyone what your small business is all about. Chat with fellow parents prior to a PTA meeting. Converse with other golfers waiting for their tee time. Lend a hand to running a charity event in your neighborhood. The common purpose will help conversation flow naturally.
Social networking should be part of your strategy too, though experts generally recommend that it supplement in-person efforts rather than be a sole method. Use LinkedIn to learn more about people you meet, including who is in their circle and any mutual connections. Contribute thoughtfully to groups or chat boards — adding value comes off better than a hard sell. As you get to know members, work on bonding offline.
Meeting people plants seeds, but to be truly fruitful, relationships must be nourished. Business cards gathered cannot collect dust. Take the lead by asking to join your new acquaintance’s LinkedIn network, picking up the phone to further discuss an issue of mutual interest, or sending an email expressing pleasure about having met. Keep people in your network top of mind; they’ll appreciate genuine efforts to help them out and be likely to reciprocate.
Enlist your staff
Finally, view networking not only as your responsibility but as something all members of your small business staff need to do. You may even want to stress from the get-go how vital you consider networking by including it in the job description for each and every employee.
Since skills such as breaking the ice or asking for referrals may not come naturally to everyone (including you), consider working on these abilities as a staff through role-playing exercises or bringing in an expert to offer pointers. Knowing what to do and say develops confidence, which in turn increases the odds of reaching out to others. As further motivation, implement a bonus system, such as a monetary reward for attracting a new customer or for accumulating a certain number of leads.
And for more ideas on how to strengthen your team’s networking efforts, discuss the issue with other small business leaders in your own network. They’ll likely be happy to share what has worked for them!
Want more small business advice? Find the answers you’re looking for at CareerBuilder’s small business resource page.