You’ve probably heard the phrase “no man is an island” a number of times in your life. It’s particularly true when you’re starting a new business. You can’t accomplish anything in your business without developing relationships with other people – employees, customers, and mentors. By actively networking, you’re intentionally meeting people who can help your business accomplish great things – things you didn’t think possible on your own. A strong network can help you find a solution for a problem you thought was impossible or spread the word about your business in new ways.
Networking can seem like a necessary chore, but if you approach it from the right mindset, you may find it enjoyable. Networking is simply talking to someone in hopes that you can learn from them and help them, and in return, they may help you.
Where should you network?
Start your networking by knowing who your target market is. Once you know your target market, you’ll have an idea of where to go to meet people in that market. You’ll also have a better idea of what to say when you first meet someone, and you’ll know whom you want to meet.
Make sure that you’re involved with your local small business community, whether that’s attending events hosted by your Chamber of Commerce, a college’s Small Business Development Center, or your local Small Business Administration office. You’ll be able to meet people who have been where you are now. If you’ve already started your business, you’ll also be able to help people who are just starting out.
Volunteer in your community. You’ll meet people who may not regularly attend networking events, and you’ll help foster your reputation in your community.
Although in-person networking is usually the most effective form of networking, don’t discount networking online. Seek online communities specifically for businesses like yours and participate in their forums or comment on their posts. Many online communities will have local events so you can take your networking offline. For example, if you are an entrepreneur in a creative industry, consider joining the Rising Tide Society. You can meet other creative entrepreneurs and discuss business solutions with members online, but then meet local members at a local TuesdaysTogether meetup.
Tips & Tricks for Networking
When you meet someone new, don’t immediately ask for help, but start by asking them questions to see how you can help them. You don’t want the relationship to be one-sided, so when you meet people focus on how you can help each other.
It can be easy to talk too much about your business, especially when you’re passionate about it, so go to each event with the goal of learning something new – this will prevent you from talking too much about yourself.
If you can, find out who will be at an event before you attend so you know who you want to seek out and meet. You can do some research in advance to learn what they do and what you may have in common. Have a plan for how you’re going to meet that person – whether it’s just walking up and introducing yourself or asking a common acquaintance to introduce you.
Make sure you return the favor and act as a connector when you think two people should know each other, whether it’s just because you think they’ll get along or because their businesses will complement each other.
Don’t forget to bring business cards and hand them out to people who ask for it or to people you’ve made a connection with. This may seem like a small thing, but it will make it easy for other people to follow up with you after the event.
You should also make sure to follow up with the people you meet. You can send them a LinkedIn request, an email, a handwritten note, or give them a call. In your follow-up, make sure you reference something you talked about so you can continue the conversation.
It can be easy to forget what you talked about with someone or where you met them, so shortly after every networking event, make a record of who you met and what you talked about.
If you think about networking as building relationships, instead of trying to make sales, you’ll stop viewing it as a chore and start looking forward to events.