Networking, whether it be face to face or online is a crucial part of a marketing strategy for small business owners in building a sustainable and profitable business. Without the luxury of big budgets for more traditional marketing, your biggest asset in selling your business is you.
Communicating online can introduce you to people and keep the dialogue going, but for me and my business, face to face networking really works and together with referrals, is where I gain the majority of my business.
Admittedly in my last blog, I confessed to loving face to face networking! I am essentially a team player so networking offers me the synergy that I want from working with others to achieve common goals. But I know it is not relished by all small business owners. You most likely set up your business as you are an expert in your field – but that may not include putting yourself in front of others!
To help make networking business events less daunting and a successful investment of your time and money, keep these five points in mind and you may also get to love it too!
1. Remember that networking events are just that. They are not a forum to sell direct but an opportunity to meet others with whom you feel able to build a mutually beneficial professional relationship. Helping others to network by introducing them to good contacts for their business will help others to remember you.
2. Be selective about the events that you attend. Just because they are free it doesn’t make them worthwhile. If you are new to networking, smaller groups may be better, or groups where you see the same people each time to help build your confidence in meeting new people. But be sure that the people likely to be there include professionals you are seeking to build a mutually supportive relationship with
3. You don’t need to be gregarious, just be yourself – authentic. That is who your target market wants to meet so they can get to know you. It is an opportunity to earn their trust and confidence. I am naturally quite curious, so showing interest in where others are in their business keeps me in touch with the needs and challenges of my niche market.
4. Know why you are there! Also be open to opportunities that might present themselves. You may have a specific need, whether it be in search of a supplier or joint venture partner. You may just want to get to know more people to raise your visibility online or meet your online contacts to get to know them better. In any case it will keep you aware of what your target market needs – if you take time to listen and not just talk.
5. Follow up with those you want to build a relationship and do it within 24 hours so they remember you and know you are sincere. Acting quickly also means you will do it rather than putting it on a do list or collecting a pile of card and leaflets!
Denise Molloy works with small business owners to help them build a sustainable and profitable business that suits their lifestyle. She regularly attends BOB networking meetings and Women in Business West Kent.